Ali Jasmin Comes Home
By Hamish MacDonaldMay 24, 2012
Australia released a boy, convicted of people-smuggling and held in a maximum-security prison, after revelations that proved he was just that — an Indonesian boy. Here, the story of Ali Jasmin’s homecoming.
Their long, anxious wait is over. The women of the village are suddenly rubbing tears from their eyes. The quiet, waiting crowd is now noisy and mobile. They rush towards the arriving car , alongside it, younger children are skipping, intrigued by all the commotion. They are all here to see the return of a boy who was lost but is finally returning. It is three years since Ali Jasmin left his hometown of Balauring, a fishing village in a remote corner of Flores, Indonesia. Today he has come back.
The 16-year-old has been on a journey not fit for a child. He says he was duped into working as a cook on a boat smuggling asylum seekers to Australia back in December 2009. "My boss lied to me," says Jasmin. "He said, 'Just go sailing, then bring people to a holiday, to a little island which is called 'Ashmore' in Australia.' But I truly never heard of Ashmore Island, so I didn't know what's going to happen in there."
Since then the teenager has been through the Australian justice system. The Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution pursued him as an adult. Successful prosecution saw him jailed in Albany's maximum-security, adult prison at the age of just 14. He has been living there for two and a half years alongside Australians convicted of murder and paedophilia.
Five weeks ago an investigation by Network Ten's The Project, also published in The Global Mail, found documentation in Balauring that showed Ali Jasmin was still a child. Following weeks of resistance from the federal government, including a rejection of that reporting by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, today he is free.
On the morning of May 18 he was taken from Albany prison at 5am and delivered on to the tarmac at Perth International Airport, where Indonesian diplomats waited for him on board a commercial aircraft bound for Denpasar. We met him en route, in Kupang, West Timor, and followed his journey home via Lewoleba to Balauring, where he was reunited with his family and friends.
At the doorstep of his seaside home, Ali Jasmin's grandmother is waiting with a bucket of water. In front of the weeping crowd he is soaked, fully clothed in a ritual cleansing. He is embraced by the matriarch, who sobs uncontrollably. Three years of worry and heartache has just ended with his return. Their boy is finally home.
Ali Jasmin is much bigger and stronger today than when he left, but he is still very clearly a teenage boy. He laughs nervously at the attention and clings to the countless small children thrust into his arms. "I'm glad, really glad," he says. "I'm with everyone now. That's a good thing. I'm very happy right now."
His older sister, Nurzalina, sobs and presents Ali Jasmin with a baby. It is his nephew. They have never met before. "I'm happy because now we're together again," says Nurzalina. "We can see each other now, there's no need for the phones anymore. We can hug him and show how much we miss him."
His mother, Anisa, says, "I thought I would never see him again."
Jasmin has learned to speak English with hints of an Australian accent during his incarceration in Albany prison, where he says some of the older prisoners protected him from the potential dangers inside the institution. Jasmin is a smart and affable teenager. In prison he used his English to represent the interests of the 50 or so other Indonesians currently held in Albany. He granted The Project an exclusive interview to be broadcast in Australia at 6pm on May 24, on Network Ten, outlining his side of the story for the first time.
Back in 2009, Jasmin had been assessed by Department of Immigration officials prior to his arrest; they concluded he was 14. Despite this, the Australian Federal Police went ahead and charged him as an adult. No explanation has been provided for the contrary conclusions reached by the two federal agencies.
In addition, Jasmin's birth certificate was sent to Australia in August 2010, before his age determination hearing in the West Australian District Court. His family faxed the birth certificate to the Indonesian Consulate in Perth, and diplomats immediately referred it to the immigration department, the Australian Federal Police, the Commonwealth DPP and his defence lawyer, David McKenzie. The birth certificate indicates he was born in 1996, making him 14 at the time — however it was never presented in court.
In court the Crown Prosecutor used a wrist bone density x-ray as evidence of Ali Jasmin's age.
Ali Jasmin found this baffling. "It's impossible to do a bone x-ray, you know. Our wrists are different. My hand is used to working hard every day."
Jasmin's story also provides fresh insight into how people-smugglers recruit young boys to work as crew on the boats. Jasmin was based in the nearby town of Maumere, working on fishing boats, when he was approached to travel to Ashmore. "Usually they come to the places like where I lived in Maumere, and they look for workers to bring people. I was there, so, yeah, that's how they work."
Ali Jasmin says he now wants to find gainful employment and provide for his mother and younger sister, who is still at school. Now 16, he says it was difficult to think about them while he was in Albany: "They are always in my mind, you know. And when I think about them, then I cry. I had a hard time every day. Especially at night, can't sleep, you know. Mind is always thinking about family."