Young Indonesians aged 15 and 16, alleged to be crewmembers on boats giving passage for refugees to Australia, are being held in Australian adult prisons. They are charged under harsh people smuggling laws that carry minimum mandatory sentences of five years.
At least four young men under 18 are known to be held in maximum security prisons in Western Australia and Queensland. This was revealed after human rights lawyers told media of three young men kidnapped from their village on Roti Island to work for a “people smuggling” racket.
“Ako Lani, a 16-year-old orphan, Ose Lani, 15, not related to Ako, and John Ndollu, 16, from a village on Roti Island were on an asylum-seeker boat detected near Ashmore Reef 14 months ago,” AAP said on June 14.
“The trio has been in custody in Brisbane's high-security Arthur Gorrie jail since about October last year. Before that they were in immigration detention.”
Human Rights Alliance convener Gerry Georgatos is helping another 16-year-old imprisoned in a WA jail. He was a cook aboard a boat carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia in April 2010.
Georgatos said on June 13 that the Indonesian embassy “estimates that 25 Indonesian children are being held in our adult prisons”. He said Australia has “in its adult prisons the poorest youth and minors of our international neighbours”.
The Age said this contravenes government policy to return children apprehended on asylum-seeker boats.
Georgatos said that despite confirmation from the Indonesian consulate that the boy he was helping he was 16, federal police used a wrist x-ray to claim he was over 18 and thus deny bail. Skeletal tests have proven unreliable and the UN Children’s Fund instead recommends interviews with translators.
The WA-based Indonesia Institute said: “The reality is that many of these alleged offenders are young people (often 15-23 years of age) who originate from extremely poor parts of Indonesia…
“They have now been completely disconnected from their families — some for several years — as a result of being apprehended and jailed.”
Defence Lawyer David Svoboda, who is representing Ose Lani, told AAP that Lani's family thought he had drowned at sea. He also said the young Indonesians were subject to racial violence inside Australian jails.
Australia has steadily worsened its mandatory sentencing laws for “people smugglers” and the Indonesia Institute estimates that 250 people are locked up accused of providing “illegal passage” for refugees.
The federal government also pushed Indonesia into adopting similarly punitive laws, which were passed in April.