Geoff Abbott wasn’t in Indonesia to enjoy the warm weather and drink cocktails on the beach — the Whitehorse-based RCMP analyst was instead there to train local police officers to combat human smuggling.
Abbott has some experience in the field.
For five years he worked on the file of the MV Sun Sea, a boat smugglers used to bring 492 Sri Lankan immigrants to Canada in 2010.
During that time he made trips to Bangkok, Thailand, to work with the local police.
At the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JLEC), Abbott and two other RCMP analysts trained 19 officers in what they learned.
He has only been back for a few days but he has already got a lot of feedback from participants.
“That was a highlight, they were very grateful and enthusiastic,” he said.
The Indonesian officers knew it was a privilege to receive training at JLEC, Abbott said, and to be trained by the RCMP.
“The RCMP have a reputation for being one of the top police forces in the world,” Abbott said.
When the Ocean Lady arrived on Canada’s shore in 2009, followed by the MV Sun Sea, Abbott and other RCMP members were tasked with preventing that from happening again.
The goal is to prevent those boats from leaving their countries of origin, because the boats can’t be stopped once they’re in international waters, he said.
It took about six years to bring charges against some of the criminals responsible for smuggling people on the MV Sun Sea.
Last Thursday, a jury trial for four of the people involved in the smuggling — the organizers and the boat’s captain — started in B.C. Supreme Court.
The Globe and Mail reported that one of the migrants testified he had to pay $5,000 to get on the boat, and another $25,000 once he had arrived in Canada. (He didn’t end up paying the $25,000.)
The Crown prosecutor said in his opening statement that the boat was only meant to accommodate 13 people, according to the Globe. Women and children slept on the deck of the ship with only tarps to protect them, and men slept on the floor below them.
But heads of the smuggling organizations weren’t arrested. That’s because coordinated police efforts disrupted their work to the point they “disappeared off the radar,” Abbott said.
“Our success was based on the fact that no further vessels arrived on our shores.”
Instead, the top gurus moved their base of operations from Thailand to other countries, Abbott said, including Indonesia.
“They’re from other jurisdictions but much of the help they’ll get will be local.”
Abbott refused to speak about specific techniques he shared with his Indonesian counterparts, or what law enforcement agencies can do to combat human smuggling.
“Best practices are used a lot,” he said.
The RCMP’s efforts to prevent more migrant boats from landing on Canada’s shores are in part due to the danger those trips represent, Abbott said.
“When these people are put on these vessels, their lives are at great risk,” he said.
It’s similar to what is happening in Europe with migrants boarding unsafe boats to flee Syria and other war-torn countries.
Smugglers will buy old boats sold as scrap and will find spare parts to fix them up.
“They’re not meant for trans-ocean type voyages,” Abbott said. “They can go down quite easily and they’re filled with women and children.”
While figures for how much human smugglers make by taking people to Canada are hard to come by, Abbott estimates a one-way trip from southeast Asia can cost upwards of US$40,000.
It’s “cheaper” to get to Australia, which only costs $5,000 to $10,000.
The trip to North America lasts about 40 days.
The conditions aboard, not surprisingly, are atrocious.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com