The Four Corners’ people smuggling program has only added to the demonisation that surrounds the media and politicians’ portrayal of people smugglers.

Rather than exposing a trans-national criminal network, Four Corners has revealed, what is so often the case, that people arranging boats for asylum seekers to come to Australia have often been refugees themselves, motivated by concerns for the safety of their families or asylum seekers from the same country.

Ten of 16 people convicted for people smuggling between 2001 and 2006 were indeed refugees themselves.

“It was also clear that there is no ‘people smuggling business model’, only desperate asylum seekers who have no other way of getting to safety than to pay to take a boat to Australia,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “It is the government, not people smugglers that ‘has blood on its hands’. Criminalising people smuggling only makes boat travel to Australia more dangerous.

“The result of Australia pressuring Indonesia to systematically detain asylum seekers is that there are hundreds locked up for years in Indonesian detention centres. The February killing of an Hazara asylum seeker in Pontianak is only the most recent shocking abuse suffered in Indonesia’s detention centres.

“As long as Australia refuses to resettle UNHCR refugees out of Indonesia, people will have no alternative but to get on a boat. Only 17 refugees were resettled by Australia from Indonesia in the first three months of 2012.”

“Rather than ‘shock-horror’ revelations that arrangements for boats were being made in Australia, Four Corners could have more usefully looked at the useless AFP prosecutions of Australian refugees desperate to get their families to safety.

“Just as was the case with temporary protection visas under the Howard government, It is Australian government’s policy of linking the number of protection visas with the family reunion through the Special Humanitarian Program that is driving the families of refugees onto boats. The Department of Immigration are sending letters to refugees seeking family reunion saying that the numbers of Special Humanitarian visas for 2011-2012 will ‘be the smallest in 30 years’ and as low as 750.

“It is not people smugglers, but the politicians, using asylum seekers as political footballs, who are playing with refugees’ lives.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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