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Jakarta Post

Migrant smuggling: Blaming Indonesia will do no good

  • Alban Sciascia

    The Jakarta Post

Lyons   /   Sat, September 21, 2013   /  12:07 pm

Last August, the asylum-seeker plan for Australia proposed by Tony Abbott received strong and legitimate opposition from the Indonesian side.

The Australian opposition leader proposed a way of countering the asylum-seeker issue through enhanced cooperation with the Indonesian National Police and a contested '€œcommunity outreach program'€.

The latest effort aims to buy back the boats used by smugglers departing from Indonesian coastlines that are used on the last part of migrants'€™ journeys to Australia.

The Australian and Indonesian governments have strongly criticized this plan, both for different reasons. Abbot'€™s solution seems to only understand the migrant smuggling issue as one where the Indonesian side shows a lack of concern.

Many criticisms have emerged of the Indonesian government'€™s way of managing this issue. Some of them are justified because as an archipelago that plays a role as a transit country for asylum seekers and smuggled migrants seeking to reach Australia, Indonesia has a responsibility in the fight against illegal immigration.

However, it is necessary that all observers take into account the difficulties that Indonesia faces before blaming the country.

Migrant smuggling is defined by Article 3 of the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime) as '€œthe procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national'€.

This conduct is criminalized by Article 6 of the same protocol. Understanding the definition of migrant smuggling is unfortunately not enough.

Dynamics related to migrant smuggling are as important in order to provide an effective answer.

According to a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on transnational crime, the dynamics of migrant smuggling are complex. Most of these migrants enter Indonesian sovereign territory illegally intend ing to seek asylum in Australia (and in a few cases in the past, in Canada).

Indonesia is '€œonly'€ a transit country for the 6,000 asylum seekers (the average number per year according to UNODC) who attempt to reach Australia by sea.

In this perspective, some might argue that as a transit country, Indonesia'€™s responsibility could be considered limited. Others will highlight that Indonesia should develop better border protection in order to share the burden with its neighbors.

Both opinions are valid and can be defended. Nevertheless, it is important to notice that observers tend to focus only on the lack of Indonesian efforts in the struggle against migrant smuggling.

Of course, the effectiveness of border protection in Indonesia can be discussed and criticized.

However, the difficulties faced by Indonesia in combating this threat need to be carefully considered. The majority of migrants arrive and leave Indonesian territory by sea.

In this context, it should be borne in mind that Indonesia consists of more than 17,500 islands and that its coast represents more than 95,100 kilometers (according to the World Resources Institute'€™s calculation methodology).

The securitization of this gigantic territory is not easy, especially since the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers more than 6,159,032 square kilometers, with maritime traffic constantly growing '€” especially in the strategic straits. According to these facts, it is difficult for Indonesia to develop the optimum capacity to effectively fight this threat.

Additionally, it is not wrong to note that a real lack of a maritime security strategy still exists in Indonesia. Without a shared and comprehensive perception of threats from sea '€” including migrant smuggling '€” and resolute commitment from all agencies and institutions to prioritize tackling criminal activities, it seems difficult to provide an effective response.

According to what has been accomplished in other areas around the world, as for the European Union (EU) with FRONTEX, this shared vision and comprehensive approach can only work with effective coordination and cooperation between agencies on national and regional levels.

In order to illustrate this idea, it is essential to keep in mind that no less than 13 agencies are involved in Indonesian maritime domain securitization.

Competition between agencies and institutions in charge, without any real leadership, and a lack of information sharing, create issues when it is time to tackle the threat of migrant smuggling.

The situation seems difficult but it is not a reason to ignore efforts that have been made by Indonesia. As criticism can rightly be made on the treatment of migrants or the absence of strong sentences against members of criminal networks involved in human smuggling, it is wrong to say that Indonesian agencies are not affected by this problem and do not try to provide an effective answer against this threat.

Even if the media is keen to provide coverage of a migrant boat sinking off the Java coastline rather than the arrest of migrants made before they leave or enter Indonesia by sea, this struggle and the involvement of several agencies (immigration, the Indonesian Navy and the police) show some results.

In this perspective, the work of the Indonesian police and their counterparts from immigration, as well as the upstream agencies and institutions responsible for the fight against illegal immigration by sea, should be noted and recognized.

As a matter of fact, improvements are also possible with effective support from partners. It is important to note that the most effective way of fighting migrant smuggling is effective and comprehensive cooperation between concerned partners.

Programs leading to capacity building and regional cooperation have to be considered as essential assets to improve responses to this threat. On the frontline, Australia provides strong support to Indonesia. Canberra and Jakarta, which co-chaired the Bali Process, have also developed specific actions.

The Indonesian National Police have seen the development of their capacity in this specific area, notably by strengthened cooperation with the Australian Federal Police.

This cooperation is not only limited to police forces. Indonesian immigration has also developed strong ties with the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). This cooperation is based on a wide framework of actions, from information exchanges and intelligence sharing to capacity and capability building and it aims to tackle criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling.

The UN, through the involvement of the UNODC, is also present in several specific programs related to capacity building for Indonesian law enforcement agencies. All these programs show some results, which are unfortunately less known and less covered than their failures.

The programs also require the strong involvement of Indonesian law enforcement agencies in order to fight migrant smuggling by sea. It is essential to bear in mind that Indonesia'€™s specific context should not lead observers to forget about Indonesian law enforcement agencies'€™ improvements in tackling this criminal activity.

The path will be long but it seems obvious that results have been achieved. Blaming Indonesia without encouraging effective progress will not help provide a comprehensive answer to migrant smuggling.

The author, a former consultant for the UNODC program on migrant smuggling, is a post-doctorate fellow at the Lyons Institute of East Asian Studies in France and a visiting fellow at UPN Veteran, Yogyakarta. The opinions expressed are personal.

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