10 February 2012

People smugglers claim ignorance over Australian visa laws

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Three Indonesian men recruited as crew and sailing to Australia with 36 asylum seekers have been found not guilty of people-smuggling charges after claiming they were unaware of strict Australian visa laws.

Australia visa

Detainees of Australia's detention centre are being shuttled around the country depending on their behaviour.

This most recent ruling comes just days after another Indonesian man was acquitted on people smuggling charges in the same court; Brisbane defence lawyer David Svovoda argues that these men are genuinely unaware of the Australian visa and immigration laws they are hired to break.

"There's no doubt there are sophisticated people-smuggling organisations but that certainly does not extend to the men who ended up on this boat; they're just pawns in the whole process," said Mr Svovoda. "What the commonwealth has tried to do is paint them as part of an organisation and [the defence] said otherwise."

While the alleged captain of the boat, also from Indonesia, pleaded guilty to the people smuggling charges and now faces up to 20 years in prison, legal experts claim that at least half of the Australian immigration authorities' attempts to prosecute apprehended people smugglers result in acquittal.

Illegal immigration in Australia has fuelled the fire of bitter political debate in recent weeks and, with the opposition accusing the government of being too weak on immigration, news that people smugglers are escaping prosecution is only likely to intensify the debate.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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