“Our boats, our people, our knowledge”

5 Nov 2014

Australia is sending dubious messages to Indonesian fishing communities

For the past fifteen years, Australia has funded information campaigns designed to deter asylum seekers from reaching Australian shores. In countries of origin and at transit points, films, billboards and TV commercials have warned asylum seekers of everything from the dangers of crocodiles and sharks in the hostile Australian environment to the risks of the voyage at sea. Recent campaigns have also emphasised that those who make the journey will never be resettled here.

Since 2009, these campaigns have been given a slightly different twist in Indonesia. Rather than targeting asylum seekers directly, they are pitched at potential crew members on asylum-seeker vessels. Fishermen from poor coastal areas are frequently recruited by middlemen for boats carrying asylum seekers to Australian territory. As small-fry in the smuggling trade, they are offered a relatively large amount of money for a few days’ work – enough to clear outstanding debts or to supplement their regular incomes, which are rarely sufficient to live on. If they’re caught, however, they risk being prosecuted as people smugglers under Australian and Indonesian law. In both countries the minimum sentence for people smuggling is five years’ jail…

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Photo: Anne McNevin

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