People smuggling laws 'fail to catch ringleaders'

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New Indonesian laws criminalising people smuggling have resulted in more arrests, but network ringleaders are still largely avoiding prosecution, a new Melbourne study has found.

New Indonesian laws criminalising people smuggling have resulted in more arrests, but network ringleaders are still largely avoiding prosecution, a new Melbourne study has found.

Researchers Antje Missbach from the University of Melbourne and Melissa Crouch from the National University of Singapore compared the court details of 30 cases of people smuggling in Indonesia since the introduction of laws criminalising people smuggling in 2011 to earlier cases.

The findings of the study show the new laws are being used to crack down on people smuggling offences, Dr Missbach says. 

“There’s always this wide-held perception that Indonesia is not doing anything against people smuggling -- that’s wrong,” she says.  

“Actually, they are doing quite a bit, so not only people smuggling has become a criminal offence… but also we’ve seen the number of trials have gone up and also the sentences that are being handed down by the courts have gone up.”

However, the study found, most of those prosecuted for people smuggling are boat crew, drivers or other low-level facilitators, rather than the ringleaders of sophisticated networks.  

“A lot of people who end up in prison are just fisherman and transporters and this new law might not necessarily work as a deterrent to stop people smuggling by only sentencing these people.

“There should be more efforts to look into the organisers high up and investigating them, rather than just the transporters,” says Dr Missbach.

Organisers are able to stay ahead of the law in part because of the "decentralised" nature of the business, she believes, where lower level crew members receive instructions through intermediaries or text messages. 

"They sometimes might not even know who they are working for, so by arresting people in the field, it's not necessarily guaranteed that you will find the required information or required evidence about the people higher up."

Corruption was also an issue, the study found. Dr Missbach said while it was difficult to find "hard evidence" to prove corruption may be helping ringleaders stay ahead of the law, a number of Indonesian academics questioned during the research "confirmed that some people smugglers have very good connections, links to state authorities, and therefore enjoy some sort of protection."

Source SBS

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