Nukila Evanty: Australia urged to uphold human rights in NTT border smuggling cases

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Jakarta, IO – On Monday (8/7/2024), the boat containing forty-four illegal migrants (36 from Bangladesh and eight Rohingya people) became stranded on Indonesian territory, Fufano Beach in Sonimanu Village and Baru Beach in Mokekuku Village, Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).

These illegal migrants departed from their countries for Jakarta, Indonesia, with the final destination being Australia. However, they were interdicted by Australian security forces and expelled, forced to land on Rote Island., all immigrants are currently being detained by Indonesian Police for further investigation. Typically, they hold no travel documentations or personal identification, so it is suspected that they are victims of human smuggling.

The Rote Island police disclosed that they discovered that the illegal immigrants had paid two Indonesian citizens IDR 120 million, with the promise of taking them to Australia.

Unexpectedly, they used two unnamed vessels, but on the boats, Australia-brand mineral water bottles, Frantelle, were found, along with food wrappings.
According to Nukila Evanty, Chairwoman of the Coalition against Organized Crime, the final destination of the smuggling victims was Australia. However, Indonesia’s strategic position makes it an easy target as a transit country. Particularly on Rote Island, the outermost island in Indonesia, supervision is less strict, making it easier for stranded immigrants to reach it by boat.

Nukila’s observation is that the illegal migrants usually originate in Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Nepal or Bangladesh, with Australia being their final destination, with the hope of building a better life there.

illegal migrants
Boats carrying illegal migrants stranded on Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara. (Source: Special)

Nukila said that if Australia could be proven to have intercepted the boat passengers and then dumped them on Rote Island, it would signify that Australia had violated international human rights law: the principle of non-refoulement. This principle guarantees that no one should be directed to countries where they would face worse treatment. The country is not allowed to reject or send back the people on the ship. “Imagine this. These immigrants have arrived at the Australian border. They were exhausted. Probably some were ill. But they were forced out to the open sea, with the risk of large waves and storms. Where is the humanity of the Australian Government? They were supposed to receive help first,” said Nukila, who is known to provide advocacy related to human trafficking and human smuggling in various regions in Indonesia, such as Riau, West Kalimantan and East Nusa Tenggara.

Australia is one of the countries that has signed the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. This convention recognizes the grave perils and impacts caused by transnational organized crime, and the need for countries to work together to combat crime effectively. Therefore, it must adhere to its own promise to take steps to address transnational organized crime. Australia is a party to two protocols, namely, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

Nukila stated that she regretted how human smuggling cases have been rife recently. For example, on May 28, 2024, the Rote Ndao Police arrested three Indonesian citizens who were smuggling two Chinese nationals from Indonesia without valid travel documents and without going through Immigration checkpoints, to Australia.

On Sunday (26/5), the police indicated they had interdicted a ship containing Chinese citizens in the waters south of Rote Island, revealing that Australian Navy personnel provided a white, blue and black fiber-covered wooden boat with the name Vidu to the three crew members and two Chinese citizens, along with a GPS with the specified coordinates for Rote Island. The Australian Navy personnel even escorted them to the Australia-Indonesia border, so the five immigrants sailed back to Indonesia via the waters of Rote Island. “If they have entered Australian waters, according to international law, they should be interrogated, to discover what their motives are, and find out find out what happened to these migrants, whether they were persecuted in their country of origin or what other problems they experienced,” explained Nukila.

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Nukila views undocumented migrants of various nationalities who use boats to come to Australia as victims of transnational organized crime. Australia must be accountable for the protection and safety of these people, who are clearly human smuggling victims. Australia has a role in enforcing the law, including searching for the syndicates or crime groups that have repeatedly smuggled victims from Indonesia as a transit country to Australia.

Australia seems to shirk responsibility, and has in fact violated many articles of international law. The country ignores its duty to be responsible and impose victim protection and law enforcement on Indonesia. “Don’t use a double standard. On the one hand, you want to uphold human rights, but on the other hand, you don’t want to accept these victims, and you even put them in further danger,” stated Nukila. (des)