People Smuggler Denies Blame for Deaths
February 13, 2002 08:51 PM
Laksamana.Net - A notorious people smuggler says he can't remember whether he organized last year's doomed voyage of 374 Middle Eastern asylum seekers who drowned in the Java Sea while attempting to reach Australia in an overloaded boat.
'I did indeed help send immigrants to Australia but I don't know if the people I helped were on the boat that sank,' Turkish citizen Abu Quassey was quoted as saying by detikcom at police headquarters in Jakarta on Wednesday (13/2/02).
Some survivors of the October 19 sinking have described how police hired by Quassey beat them with rifle butts and forced them onto the decrepit vessel at gunpoint when they refused to board.
But Quassey (29), who had initially been identified as an Egyptian, denied he was responsible for the deaths.
'I am not guilty of their deaths. I did not force anyone,'' he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Police last year admitted that rogue officers might have accepted bribes from people smugglers.
Authorities said Quassey's real name is Centin Kaya Nugun and he has been deported from Indonesia three times in the past, but used false names to re-enter the country.
Quassey said that if he had not tried to 'help' asylum seekers in their quest to reach Australia, they would have turned to someone else for assistance.
'I know that my actions were illegal, but I did it for humanitarian reasons,' he told reporters at police headquarters.
He claimed the asylum seekers - mostly Iraqis and Iranians - had asked him to help them find passage to Australia because he could speak Indonesian and was therefore able to recruit boat captains and crews willing to undertake the perilous voyage.
The dilapidated vessel that departed Lampung province, southern Sumatra, on October 18, 2001, had a capacity for only 150 passengers, but 418 men, women and children were forced on board. Only 44 survived when the boat sank in the Java Sea while on its way to Australia's Christmas Island.
Following the outcry over the tragedy - and complaints from Australia that Indonesia was [not] doing enough to stop people smuggling - police arrested Quassey on November 4, 2001, in Bandung, West Java.
Two Iraqis suspected of being part of the people smuggling ring have also been arrested. Khalid Daud (35) and May Thean Saun Radia (26) were handed over to police by immigration officers on January 11.
Quassey was initially questioned for violating a 1992 immigration law and could face a maximum penalty of six years' imprisonment and a Rp30 million ($2,835) fine.
Indonesia refused to extradite him to Australia.
The two countries will discuss people smuggling at a regional conference to be held over February 26-28 in Bali.
There are believed to be thousands of illegal immigrants in various parts of Indonesia waiting to get on boats heading to Australia. They each pay between $1,000 to $4,000 to people smugglers for the voyage, even though there's no guarantee they will ever make it to Australia, let alone be granted refugee status.
Authorities believe Quassey may be part of a larger syndicate of people smugglers but say it's difficult to track down the ringleaders.
'They are very difficult to find and arrest. The syndicate is like a narcotics or a terrorist group. The cells do not know each other,'' police spokesman Colonel Budi Prasetyo was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
People smuggling is still not classified as an offense under the Indonesian Criminal Code.
Some police officers are being questioned over last October's tragedy as reports point to widespread collusion between Indonesian authorities and people smugglers.
Quassey said the practice of people smuggling has taken place throughout history and is nothing unusual.
Upon arriving in Indonesia in 1997, he said, he established a furniture exporting business.
He claims he entered the people smuggling business a year ago and had helped about 200 people migrate from Indonesia, mainly to Australia.
Quassey refused to give details when asked whether he was part of an international syndicate.
'I can't answer that. This activity has gone on before and I only helped as an interpreter and looking for captains,' he said.
Quassey said he had received no support from the Turkish Embassy in Jakarta since his arrest.