Asia-Pacific

Indonesia passes people-smuggling law

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd meets Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta on 29 March 2011.
Image caption Indonesia serves as a transit hub for many migrants and asylum seekers seeking to go on to Australia

Indonesia has passed a long-awaited law against people-smuggling.

Those found guilty of helping to transport illegal migrants into the country could now face prison terms of up to 15 years and a large fine.

Thousands of asylum-seekers and economic migrants use the country as a transit point in an attempt to get to Australia.

The new law against people-smuggling is part of a broader bill that overhauls much of the immigration system.

Until now, people-smugglers could operate with relative impunity in Indonesia. They could only be charged with minor immigration offences which usually resulted in a small fine.

But under this new law, they face up to 15 years in jail or a fine of $170,000 (£104,000).

The move will be welcomed by Australia, which has been putting pressure on the Jakarta government to reduce the number of asylum-seekers who pass through Indonesia before travelling on to Australia.

Indonesia will also benefit, because the migrants who arrive here often end up staying for years.

Some need to save money for the next leg of their trip, others are taken advantage of by people smugglers who leave them stranded mid-journey.

And if they are caught by the authorities, the asylum-seekers then have to wait to be resettled somewhere else.

But enforcing such a law is a lot more difficult than passing it. Critics say the system is already plagued by corruption - with people-smugglers frequently paying bribes to officials.

And the transport of illegal migrants is becoming an ever more widespread and lucrative trade.

More on this story