Sayeed Abbas Azad has been billed as the biggest catch so far by Southeast Asian authorities seeking to crack down on people smuggling rings transiting through here en-route to Australia.
Indonesia arrested the 29-year-old Afghani following a request from Canberra for his extradition. That deportation now seems likely, but by most accounts it will be a lengthy process and Abbas appears destined to remain behind bars for the foreseeable future while the Indonesian bureaucracy processes his case.
Abbas has been the focus of police attention for about two years. The ethnic Hazara was jailed previously then bailed in March. He then allegedly went straight back into business, although he has always denied allegations of being involved with the people smuggling racket.
Abbas claims the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are acting on faulty information, but if that’s his best defence then he might want to try another approach. Given the hundreds of people from Central Asia and the Middle East who have landed on Australian shores through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent years, there’s an abundance of corroborated evidence detailing how they got there.
Indonesia’s justice ministry relayed the Australian request for the arrest of Abbas last August, a day after 102 passengers and four crew were intercepted and escorted to Christmas Island. He was nabbed in Jakarta’s Kebon Sirih district, a well-known haunt for people smugglers, along with five others.
Australian media reports say Abbas was responsible for at least three boats carrying 220 people that arrived within three months of each other in the middle of last year. Another two parties of 110 people were stopped before boarding his boats.
Abbas also appears to have worked hand in glove with another Hazara, Sajjad Hussain Noor, and 100 people were destined to leave Indonesia for Australia last Sunday. Australia has also requested the extradition of Noor, Amanullah Rezaie and Haji Sakhi. Of the three, only Sakhi has been detained.
Three months ago, Ali Khorram Heydarkhani was deported from Indonesia and is facing 89 charges in Australia related to four boats carrying asylum seekers. One had crashed off Christmas Island in December last year, killing about 50 people.
Also among the wanted is Peg Leg Shankar – aka Shanmugasundaram Kanthaskaran – a native Sri Lankan and former Tamil Tiger who allegedly established a network of people smugglers across the Indian Ocean, through Southeast Asia to Australia, and in some cases as far east as Canada.
In the 1990s, when the latest era of people smuggling first emerged out of Afghanistan, little was known of the faceless men who ran those networks. But these days, thanks largely to the human cargo that they ferried across oceans, the evidence over who, where and when is mounting.
The arrest of Abbas should also be welcomed by Australia’s Labor government, which is facing a High Court ruling over the legality of its plan to swap 800 asylum seekers with 4,000 United Nations’ processed refugees from Malaysia. It hopes that by diverting asylum seekers to Malaysia, people smugglers and their passengers will think twice before embarking on such a hazardous journey. It’s a strong argument, but far more potent will be the arrest of those operating behind the lines.