People smugglers in Indonesia are offering to take asylum seekers to New Zealand in shipping containers or as crew on commercial vessels, a Fairfax Media investigation has found.
The revelations come after the Sunday Star-Times reported yesterday that smugglers had attempted to send 50 asylum seekers by boat from a beach near Jakarta last Wednesday but were intercepted by police.
Sources say they will make another attempt in the next few days and have paid off corrupt police.
Fairfax has heard tape recordings of smuggler agents discussing other methods for getting to New Zealand, the preferred option now that the route to Australia has been closed under the hardline Operation Sovereign Borders turn-back policy.
The smugglers refer to containers as the "cruise ship" option. The price would range between $US8000 and $US14,000 per person and the ships are said to leave from ports in Bali, Sulawesi and West Papua.
Asylum seekers have been promised they would only spend about nine hours sealed in the container before being allowed to roam the deck, but the option did not appeal to most people Fairfax spoke to in Indonesia, who saw it as too dangerous.
There have been several cases of people dying of suffocation or dehydration in containers smuggled through Europe.
Another source, who asked his identity be kept secret, said captains of commercial ships were offering to take asylum seekers to New Zealand as crew for $8000. They would be given fake work permits and jump ship after arriving.
Another option that had been offered was for the ship to drop the asylum seeker on a South Pacific island and make their own way to New Zealand.
The source said many people were disillusioned with the formal process of seeking refugee status through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and were considering illegal options.
"There are so many Pakistani, Afghani, Iranian, Myanmar and Syrians ready for that, to go to New Zealand, but they still wait to find a good way," he said. "We know if we go back to our own country we die, so we take risk."
The source said Australians had shown by their tough approach they had "no humanity. Tony Abbott loves dogs more than humans."
The operation uncovered by Fairfax has fuelled Government concerns that New Zealand is moving up the list of countries targeted by people smugglers.
Prime Minister John Key said it matched the Government's intelligence, which it had also shared with Opposition parties.
"It's confirmation of what we see through our intelligence reporting which is that New Zealand is a location that's being talked about. There have been missions that have been planned to come to New Zealand. Many of them have been disrupted and it's probably likely that New Zealand is moving up the list of desirable locations now."
The Government controversially passed legislation last year enabling mass detention of groups of asylum seekers, sparking outrage from civil liberties groups.
Its motives were also questioned, given that no boat has ever made it to New Zealand and the seas are considered too treacherous for a successful voyage.
But Key warned yesterday that "the landscape has changed" as a result of Australia's tough line on boat people. "I acknowledge it's very difficult to achieve, we're a long way away from the kind of places they would leave, particularly Indonesia, and it's treacherous water but there's no question that the landscape has changed somewhat. Australia is seen as a place boat people are much less likely to get to easily and so now they're showing interest in other locations and New Zealand is one of those."
Told about the plans to stow asylum seekers in shipping containers, Key said the Government was largely powerless to intervene.
"Any steps that the boat people might take somewhere like Indonesia is immensely difficult for us to control. The main thing we've been trying to do is make sure our message is communicated to these groups that it is highly risky, that they would be an unwelcome arrival, and we will take the necessary steps in the event we saw an influx of boat people."
Labour leader David Cunliffe said he could not comment on what intelligence had been shared with him as Opposition leader and believed the prime minister had crossed the line by referring to the nature of those reports.
"It is not appropriate for him to comment on any matters [relating to] intelligence sources. [Former Australian prime minister] John Howard tried to use boat people as a political wedge against the Labor Opposition and I believe it is unbecoming of [our] prime minister to stoop to that level."
Labour opposed last year's boat people legislation but Cunliffe would not commit to overturning that in Government.
"We believe that this is a matter we can only resolve once we are in Government and had the opportunity to review the law taking into account the latest intelligence and all other relevant information."
Under the legislation any one deemed to be part of a mass arrival - 10 or more people - could be detained for up to six months.
About 350 people apply for asylum status in New Zealand every year, but only about 40 per cent are successful.
- The Dominion Post
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