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Human traffic: A lucrative trade

Abu Quassey
Egyptian-born Abu Quassey is accused of running an extensive people smuggling network  

By CNN's Marianne Bray
in Indonesia

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (CNN) -- On November 4 last year, Egyptian-born Abu Quassey was arrested by Indonesian police following one of Indonesia's worst maritime disasters in which 354 mostly Iraqi asylum seekers died.

Investigators believe he was the man behind the October journey of a rickety boat crammed with over 400 people that broke apart off the coast of Java.

Quassey's arrest marked the first time authorities in this Southeast Asian nation had acted against an alleged people smuggler for his role in a trade not yet outlawed in Indonesia.

The case was particularly shocking because some of the 44 survivors claimed gun-toting Indonesian police worked in cahoots with Quassey and his crew, preventing people who had paid for the trip from leaving the fishing boat.

His arrest is part of what some say is a long overdue effort by authorities to stop a racket that has seen thousands of illegal migrants pay big bucks to board floating deathtraps in the hope of making it to Australian shores.

CNN's Atika Shubert has more on the lucrative but dangerous business of human smuggling.

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However, with no laws in place against people smuggling it remains to be seen what, if anything, Indonesian officials plan to charge him with.


Officials in Indonesia and Australia believe Quassey headed one of the region's biggest people smuggling syndicates, accusing him of being involved in much of the illegal trade between the Middle East and Australia.

In what they say was a versatile, well-funded syndicate, investigators believe Quassey worked with criminals and corrupt officials, picking out the weaknesses of systems and guiding illegal migrants -- in return for a sizeable fee -- through the whole route.

They say his operatives worked through the back doors of airports smuggling people in when airport workers took their toilet or coffee breaks.

Survivors from the sunken ship allege that Quassey had spotters scattered in airports, and at a fast food outlet on the busy Jalan Jaksa street in Jakarta.

Asylum seekers who claim to have passed through Quassey's network said they would board a tourist boat, equipped with CD, video and DVD players, only to be shunted onto a smaller boat once they were out of sight of the shore.

Iraqi Amal Hussan said Quassey approached her in Jakarta, saying he had a good boat to travel to Australia.

He had already made the journey to Australia, and his reputation for making it preceded him, so Hussan paid him $1,000 to organize the trip.

While Hussan was told 175 people would be accompanying her, when she turned up at the Sumatran port of Bandar Lumpung, more than 400 people were herded on an unnamed boat with conditions worse than a 17th century slave ship.

Indonesian police say southern Sumatra is a key hub for people smuggling operations, with the shores of Lumpung province on the southern tip of the island a regular departure point.

Risky business

Hundreds of asylum seekers have risked their lives on unseaworthy boats  

Because of its covert nature it is difficult to get a gauge on just how many more people smugglers there are in operation.

The United Nations calls human trafficking the "world's fastest growing criminal business" and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that as many as two million women and children are trafficked around the world each year in a business worth $10 billion.

While the smuggling trade has been a sure bet in the past, with desperate asylum seekers paying between $4,000 and $8,000 each, the trade has become more risky in recent months.

"Smugglers cannot sell this route anymore, at least for the time being," says Richard Danziger, who works for the IOM in Jakarta.

Since the boat sinking, he says public opinion has turned against those who trade in humans.

"There was a sense before that all the smugglers [were] helping people and providing a service," he says.

"But now people are beginning to open their eyes and see they are providing a very dangerous service -- most probably a disservice."




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