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Seeking Asylum
<p>Aubrey Belford/Thne Global Mail</p>

Aubrey Belford/Thne Global Mail

Asylum seekers in detention in Tasikmalaya.

Is A Notorious People Smuggler Back In Business?

A convicted people smuggler named Hasan Ayoub appears to be back managing smuggling operations in Indonesia. His re-emergence demonstrates the power of reputation in a shadowy and lucrative business.


It took nine hours on February 21, on the perilous waters between Indonesia and Christmas Island, to convince Mahmoud Zarify and about 120 other passengers that they had to turn back, or face death. Their boat of asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan was severely overloaded, and seemed like it would be unable to manage the journey.

The boat eventually made landfall on an isolated stretch of beach on Java’s south coast, and capsized in the shallows. Everyone survived, but within hours, Indonesian authorities arrived, taking the passengers into detention. For the time being, the hopes of more than 100 people for gaining refuge in Australia had been dashed.

Also suffering a setback was one man who has already seen Australia’s shores — the apparent organiser of this people-smuggling attempt, Hasan Ayoub.

Ayoub, a Pakistani national, had been one of Australia’s major scalps in its war on people smuggling a decade ago; arrested abroad, he had been extradited and jailed in Australia. But now he is again a free man. And it appears he’s back in business.

“[Ayoub] told us the boat was good, but he didn’t tell us how many people [would be onboard],” Zarify, an Afghan, who says he fled his country after receiving threats from the Taliban over his work on a US aid project, told The Global Mail when he was contacted in detention in the West Java region of Tasikmalaya. “Of course we were angry … maybe one of the reasons we couldn’t go through was because of too many people.”

The limited details available on Ayoub’s likely return to Australia, and his movements since he was last here, offer an insight into how people smuggling works in Indonesia. Highly organised and highly lucrative, it’s a business in which establishing a good name – or brand – is key to drawing in customers. It’s also a business in which success breeds fakes, imitators and the need for front men.

“I guess for a bloke like him, if you look at the number of ventures, boats, that he’s probably organised over the years... he’s probably just made his risk assessment that there’s too much money to be made.”

This is what we know so far of the career of Hasan Ayoub, also known as Naeem Ahmad Chaudhry. In 2000, he left his wife and child behind in Pakistan and traveled to Indonesia, to cash in on the trade in smuggling people to Australia. Over a period of less than a year, he became a central figure in a smuggling operation that brought hundreds of asylum seekers to Australia.

He was arrested in Cambodia in July 2001 alongside another well-known smuggler, Abraham Lauhenapessy, also known as Captain Bram. But while Captain Bram managed to secure his own release, and spent another six years eluding arrest, Ayoub was deported to Thailand and then extradited to Australia. On 16 December 2004, Ayoub was sentenced by the District Court of Western Australia to two concurrent terms in prison — one of 10 years and another of 12 years — which were to include the time served in prison since his arrest in December 2001. The sentence specified a non-parole period of seven years, for the seriousness of the crime of having organised two boats to Australia.

In sentencing, judge Peter Nisbet told Ayoub that his actions “involved the cynical manipulation and abuse of people who are often at the lowest ebb in their lives”. Ayoub was paroled on 17 December 2008 and deported on 31 January 2009.

After that, he apparently dropped off the map.

The trail of Ayoub’s activities after he returned to Indonesia is murky. Even establishing if the person operating under his name is really him — or an impersonator — is difficult.

As recently as last year, a man using Ayoub’s name set up shop in Indonesia, charging approximately $5,000 per person for passage to Australia — that’s about $600,000 for a boat with 120 passengers on board — according to interviews with a number of asylum seekers. “Ayoub” organised at least three boats in January and February of this year, and has likely organised more since.

The man known as Ayoub does seem to enjoy a certain notoriety as a smuggler, which would suggest he is the same person who was detained in Australia. Zarify, in detention in Tasikmalaya, says he called Ayoub after a friend traveled safely on one of his boats in January. And Zarify had also heard tales of success that go back to Ayoub’s pre-prison days: “I knew some friends that went, I think it was 2000. They used the same guy, Hasan Ayoub, and they [got] to Christmas Island,” Zarify said.

Out of the 35 asylum seekers detained alongside Zarify, all contacted Ayoub either by phone or via an associate. It is the nature of the people-smuggling business that asylum seekers rarely get to meet anyone above lower-level operatives. “I’m not sure it’s himself because I didn’t meet him,” Zarify says.

<p>Aubrey Belford/The Global Mail</p>

Aubrey Belford/The Global Mail

Mahmoud Zarify, centre, and other asylum seekers in detention in Tasikmalaya.

Only one source reached by The Global Mail — a long-term asylum seeker who has had extensive contact with smugglers — said he had seen Ayoub in the flesh, and was later able to identify him from a photo.

The source provided two phone numbers, said to be used by Ayoub to organise boats to Australia. When an Urdu-speaker acting on behalf of The Global Mail rang one of the numbers, pretending to be a prospective passenger, the man on the other end identified himself as Ayoub and offered a berth on one of his boats for US$4,700. The fare would be given to a third party in the Pakistani city of Quetta, and would only be payable if the boat arrived safely.

When The Global Mail called the man later for an interview, he claimed we had a wrong number and hung up.

It’s uncertain if Ayoub has really returned to Indonesia, and whether he is at the head of an operation, or a helper or an adviser, or merely a figurehead. But at least one other person has falsely adopted Ayoub’s name, according to the source who visually identified him.

The Australian Federal Police, which operates a liaison office in Jakarta, could not confirm that Ayoub has re-entered the smuggling business in Indonesia. But the head of the AFP in Indonesia, Commander Chris Sheehan, says it is not uncommon for people jailed for smuggling to get back in the business.

“I guess for a bloke like him, if you look at the number of ventures, boats, that he’s probably organised over the years – and he was prosecuted for some of them and went to jail for a period of time – he’s probably just made his risk assessment that there’s too much money to be made,” Sheehan says.

In that sense, Sheehan adds, “It’s just like any other form of organised crime.”

When an Urdu-speaker acting on behalf of The Global Mail, rang one of the numbers, pretending to be a prospective passenger, the man on the other end identified himself as Ayoub and offered a berth on one of his boats for US$4,700.

According to Sheehan, there are roughly half-a-dozen regional syndicates involved in people smuggling, each headed by one or two people, often operating out of third countries such as Afghanistan or Pakistan. But the syndicates are not uniform in how they work. Sub-syndicates within each take responsibilities for different parts of the operation — such as acquiring boats or recruiting passengers. The lines between one group and another are often blurred at the local level.

“We know who a lot of these people are at the top levels, we’ve got a really good idea of who they are,” Sheehan says. But collecting evidence of their involvement in people smuggling and securing a conviction are another thing.

The head of the Indonesian police force’s Australian-supported anti-people-smuggling taskforce, Colonel Budi Santoso, said it’s often hard to determine the true identities of smugglers. “Often, the people out in the field, the first, second, and the third layers, won’t know who’s running the network. It’s a closed system.”

It’s in this cloudy world that Ayoub’s name is now circulating. According to interviews with asylum seekers, many top smugglers appear to be operating under multiple aliases, while in other cases more than one person is laying claim to a name. Smugglers have been known to pose as syndicate heads to members of their own ethnic group, while in fact they simply work for – or sell passengers on to – bosses higher up the food chain.

What is clear is that the brand that goes with the name Hasan Ayoub depends on the fortunes of his boats at sea. Ayoub had crammed more than 120 people on the boat that failed to reach Australia in February. The boat could perhaps reasonably have carried around 40.

In detention in Tasikmalaya, his former passengers have no compunction about revealing his identity. The reason for that is simple, says Mahran Ali, an Afghan who was on the February boat.

“Ayoub is greedy,” he says.

15 comments on this story
by gabrianga

Why do you have to "SMUGGLE" something or somebone who is not illegal?

April 19, 2013 @ 4:33pm
by Marilyn

151. 22 October 1999, Ashmore Islands. (Yule) 140
– 136 adults, 4 minors (126 Afghan, 14 Iraqi).
140 TPVs

230. 15 January 2001, Ashmore Islands. (Zillmere)
148 – 109 adults, 39 children. 5 departs, 18 det,
122 TPVs, 3 escapes.

Here we are, victims of Ayoub.

REally and truly, he saved their lives.

April 19, 2013 @ 7:05pm
by Francis

It's way past the time when we should withdraw from the ridiculously outdated & widely abused UN refugee convention. The politicians of a former generation who signed this, would have had not the slightest concept of the sheer numbers of people wanting to move to wealthier countries, or of the deception, abuse & sovereign risk that their signatures would cause to their children's & grand-children's generations. Nor of the crippling costs it would impose upon our country.

After the Boston bombings, no doubt many American people will be considering what their obligations under this outdated UN convention have cost them. It's time to rid ourselves of this enormous burden & risk to our country. Doing so, would put the criminal people smugglers out of business. It only takes a year to give notice to the UN to be free of this burden. We could still take in a set number of refugees, but we could (& should) make the rules ourselves; not have it dictated to us. We could take in only those already deemed to be genuine - only those who can provide documentation or proof. Any punters coming by boat to try their luck, would be able to be removed immediately. We wouldn't have to bear the cost of accommodation whilst conducting security checks. It would stop being a lawyers picnic; stop the refugee lobbyist industry; it would free up our courts currently tied up with appeals; free up our legal aid system for Australians in need as well; & would save us a fortune. The system we have now is a sick joke. But the joke is on us.

April 20, 2013 @ 3:04pm
by Marilyn

But I know people who have been helped by this same man, they praised him for saving their lives.

Why though are we in Indonesia stopping anyone? It is not our country and if they were here stopping people there would be an uproar.

The problem is that the only people who matter are the refugees and who they pay to get them away is nothing to do with anything at all.

This focus on the people who arrange their flight is irrelevant. It has zero to do with the right to seek asylum.

it is just Australian government propaganda spun by gullible journos. who can't be bothered understanding that we are the only country that makes arranging flight a crime.

Much better to have them stay in Quetta and die hey?

It is not ideology, it is the fact that what people do in other countries has nothing to do with anything.

April 20, 2013 @ 4:46pm
by Ghandar

Paroled. How humane of you Australia.

April 21, 2013 @ 2:46pm
by Mel

Sorry Francis, but refugees are more in need of protection by the refugee convention than we are in need of protection of them.

If you are worried about the money, let's just stop the offshore processing and mandatory detention nonsense - other countries don't do it, because it's both inhumane and far too costly. Process asylum seekers in the community.

As for documentation proving they are genuine refugees, I can only shake my head. What do you want them to bring, a note from the government or militia who is persecuting them, or what?

April 22, 2013 @ 12:28pm
by Marilyn

Yes well when the media pander to the fools by whining about border protection policies instead of the right to seek asylum, carry on about non-existent smuggling and refuse to read or believe the evidence of their own eyes that this man is not a people smuggler and never was then we are in a parlous state.

ASIO have had one Tamil jailed for life for not people smuggling but the belief that he might do it again even though he has never done it before.

When the smuggling protocol specifically excludes people who are seeking protection under the convention from prosecution and those who assist them as well and our media are too ignorant, racist and lazy to bother to understand the facts we have this sort of derangement persisting.

As everyone has the right to seek asylum and how they do that is irrelevant to anything at all what is the point of this sort of article from another country?

Specially when we have known for 45 years that Indonesia is not interested in protecting refugees.

April 22, 2013 @ 3:40pm
by twobob

Wow these people capitalise on other peoples needs.
They charge for a service.
They don't smuggle and its not illegal to seek refuge in Australia.
The whole story stinks.
If there is a party forcing the refugees onto the boats its ours and Indonesia's.
If its overpriced and dangerous its because we refuse to provide the service.
It's pointless going on about deaths at seas or dangerous boats without acknowledging that for the refugees its equally dangerous to stay where they are.
This whole piece is in line with the official MSM attitude.
FWIW I don't wan't refugees here, FWIW I don't want other immigrants either. But I do believe that we have no right in starting a war (Iraq) and then refusing refugees from the hostilities or ignoring the treatment of the tamils in their own country and then refusing them refuge.
Do the decent thing - help with refugee facilities in Indonesia, put some pressure on Sri Lanka stop getting involved in wars for resources, show some leadership and give us something in this country to be proud about and we will see this stop being so divisive and we will also stop seeing the racist behaviour that so enabled by this type of story.

April 23, 2013 @ 1:47pm
by Stephen Allen

Fascinating how the naive media pick up as legitimate the tricky tactics of dog whistling politicians seeking to heel the zenophobic population by appealing to their base morality. Francis is a classic case in point. "People smugglers" is merely a way of disguising as legitimate policy what is genuinely an attempt by the parliamentarians to appeal to the callous zenophobia of Australia, which itself has been fed by western allies' claims of "terrorism", itself a disguise of what in fact is a legitimate war against its ongoing imperialist occupation of the east, an occupation that seeks control of strategic resources and which has inflicted decades if not centuries of terror upon the occupied peoples.

April 24, 2013 @ 1:56pm
by Marilyn

Twobob, our media are so ignorant and brainwashed though that they call facts presented in hard form to them as ideology instead of facts.

Like the DIAC cowards today are claiming we have some legal right to build a permanent refugee prison on Manus Island even though the legality of it is in the courts and even though we are the only country in the world that thinks we can colonise other people's countries if only we pay enough in bribes.

It is a colonial, racist mindset that took hold after the TAMPA.

Now the government knew in 1999 that this man was only helping to make false papers in Pakistan because they could not be made in Afghanistan because the Taliban had destroyed all the printing presses.

I have had a gutful of journos. who can't be bothered with facts saying it is just my opinion when I present them with facts.

Even the best journos. do it.

April 24, 2013 @ 4:23pm
by Wilmot mather

labor is hand in glove with these people smugglers & that's why they don't want to be tough on them. it's only a Coalition Government that can have effective borders.

April 26, 2013 @ 11:56am
by Marilyn

Watching 4 Corners and hearing Brendan O''Connor today do you understand how ridiculous it is to whinge about how refugees travel and who they pay?

They are now being punished by the ridiculous laziness of all of our media to tell the truth.

April 30, 2013 @ 4:47pm
Show previous 12 comments
by Michael from Hobart

That there are millions of people fleeing dire circumstances and seeking a new start is beyond doubt. Their right to choose their destination, to be 'refugee tourists' is.

They are the responsibility of the UNHCR and it is that organisation that needs to arrive at a solution. The Gillard government's attempts to put in place a regional response is the right thing to do and Tony Abbott should be ashamed for trying to make political advantage of a shocking international situation.

May 6, 2013 @ 9:05am
by Marilyn

Michael from Hobart, the UNHCR does not have a country, asylum seekers and refugees are the responsibility of the host countries they are living in.

And there is no such thing as a regional response, that is simply racist code for don't come here.

Why is it that so many lazy Australians cannot understand that everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries? Is there something ambiguous about that?

May 6, 2013 @ 4:14pm
by Dan Rowden

So called "people smugglers" are providing a service for which people are prepared to pay. I had to find thousands of dollars I didn't have to bury my mother with dignity. I think they call it "capitalism". People smugglers indeed.

June 29, 2013 @ 10:15pm
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