Couple remanded in big Vanuatu human trafficking, slavery case

By Richard M. Nanua and Royson Willie in Port Vila

Vanuatu’s Magistrates Court has remanded a Bangladeshi couple over what is alleged to be the biggest human trafficking and slavery case in Vanuatu and the region.

Sekdah Somon and Buxoo Nabilah Bibi – the owners of the “Mr Price” home and furniture store in Vanuatu – were arrested and charged with 12 counts of human trafficking.

Somon and Bibi are also facing 12 counts each of slavery, contrary to section 102 (a) and 11 additional counts of money laundering against section 11 (3) (a) of the Penal Code.

The Vanuatu Daily Post was reliably informed that between September 21, 2018 and November 2018 Somon and Bibi allegedly brought in 12 people from Bangladesh illegally to find jobs in Vanuatu.

Reliable sources confirmed that complainants have filed complaints within the Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) and the proceedings commenced after the arrest of the accused in Port Vila.

They said 92 people had been allegedly illegally brought to Vanuatu by the couple and their cases are yet to be dealt with and brought before the court.


The Daily Post was also informed the couple were from Bangladesh but the husband had a Zimbabwe passport while his wife was using a Mauritius passport.

Other passports
The couple were denied bail in the Magistrates Court on Wednesday amid concerns the couple may have other passports in their possession that made them a possible flight risk as they are originally from one country but evidence indicated they are using passports from different countries.

The Magistrates Court said that any bail should be obtained at the higher court after considering the seriousness of the offending is of public importance.

The couple were rejected bail because they might interfere with the witnesses.

The victims were placed in various locations in Port Vila.

Sources confirmed while the case was still under investigation there might also be some breaches in Vanuatu immigration laws, labour laws and Vanuatu Financial Service Commission (VFSC) laws.

They said it was likely that more people would be charged depending on the findings of the investigation.

The Daily Post was told the couple allegedly arranged and facilitated their entry in Vanuatu using deception, denial of their freedom of movement, coercion or threat of violence exploited and placed them in servitude.

Bangladeshi workers
They said after the 12 Bangladeshi workers came to Vanuatu, the couple allegedly subjected them to slavery by engaging them in work under oppressive terms and conditions, under menace of penalty and without freedom to leave at any time.

There were allegations these workers were promised good money for jobs in Vanuatu but they have to pay them some money in return for the offer.

The sources said that some of them allegedly paid $US2000 to the couple, some paid $US3900, $US4000, $US5000, $US6000 and $US8000.

They said the couple were alleged to have directly and indirectly made arrangements that involved property that they knew or ought to have known to be proceeds of crime when they procured those amounts from the victims.

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Andrew Napuat, has confirmed the arrest of the investor behind “Mr Price” in relation to alleged money laundering and human trafficking.

While the couple are known as owners of Mr Price, sources said the investigation was still underway to check whether or not the company had a link with the global Mr Price.

This is not the first time that Mr Price Asian Junction has been in the spotlight in Vanuatu as in June this year 21 work permits were revoked for workers brought in from overseas by the company.

Buzz 96FM interview
“We didn’t want to come out in the media to talk about the case because of the sensitivity of it,” Minister Napuat told Buzz 96FM’s Kizzy Kalsakau.

“But since people are already talking about, I felt that it’s good that we come out and provide initial clarifications.”

After the revocation of work permits, the investors appealed to the minister and the revocations were reversed but with conditions to employ ni-Vanuatu and for imported workers to do work they came to do.

The minister said the investigation would take a while.

He said appropriate authorities such as the Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority (VIPA) and Customs Department and Ministry of Finance that are responsible for business licenses will have to be consulted.

Napuat said those brought to work under Mr Price would be treated as witnesses in the case against the investor behind Mr Price.

He denied rumours that people were brought in from overseas in containers.

False information
Minister Napuat is appealing for members of the public not to spread false information about the issue.

Meanwhile, Acting CEO of Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority Kalpen Silas said due diligence was carried out before Mr Price’s application was forwarded to the VIPA board for approval.

However, Silas said one of the requirements under the VIPA Act was that any investor who breaks any Vanuatu law through provision of false information would be penalised.

He said VIPA was aware of investigations currently being carried out on Mr Price.

The case is expected to resume within two weeks.

Human trafficking has been defined as the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation.

The maximum penalty for this in Vanuatu as set out in section 102 (b) of the Penal Code Act [CAP 135] is 20 years behind bars.

This article is republished from the Vanuatu Daily Post with permission.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Has Jacinda Ardern failed her first international test of leadership?

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Has Jacinda Ardern failed her first international test of leadership?

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Has Jacinda Ardern failed her first international test of leadership?

Dr Bryce Edwards.

Is our new government doing enough about the Manus refugee crisis? Well, it’s hardly doing anything. Instead of putting pressure on the Australian Government to allow New Zealand to take refugees from Manus Island, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seems to have capitulated entirely to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the issue. 

Former Labour Party leader Andrew Little has said the New Zealand Government needs to “cause international embarrassment” to Australia for not accepting New Zealand’s offer.

Little says “This is a time to step up and say, in an age of world-wide humanitarian crises, one that is on our doorstep, one that involves our nearest neighbour physically and diplomatically then we need to be applying a bit of a stiff arm on it and say, ‘we can help’.” Similarly, James Shaw has said the New Zealand Government has “a lack of spine” in dealing with the refugee crisis.

But that was then, and now Labour is leading the government. Ardern seems determined to do the opposite of what her colleagues were strongly advocating for a year ago. Instead of openly criticising and pressuring the Australian government over the humanitarian crisis they have caused at Manus Island, Ardern has mostly been running Malcolm Turnbull’s arguments for him in the New Zealand media.

New Zealand won’t call out Australia over the refugee crisis

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, was officially sworn in on October 26 2017 by the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy.

Jacinda Ardern has embarrassed herself by being too meek with the Australian Government, according to political commentator John Armstrong – see his column: Jacinda Ardern will find ‘doing the right thing’ gets harder the longer she’s PM.

Armstrong says Ardern needs to “slam” the Australians’ for their “morally bankrupt treatment of the Manus Island refugees”. He criticises her for “meekly saying that New Zealand was in the ‘lucky position’ of not having to struggle with the refugee issue, unlike Australia. Arden will have to do better than that. She can do better than that.”

Instead, the Prime Minister has returned to New Zealand from her meeting with Turnbull, and has been parroting his lines about the need to deal with the so-called “people smugglers”, and how the US first needs to take its agreed number of refugees before New Zealand gets involved.

She told RNZ today, “I have to accept that Prime Minister Turnbull is prioritising the agreement that substantially resolves the issue at this point.” And in terms of people smugglers, she said “I agree that those who are the instigators of trying to exploit people’s fear and vulnerability by encouraging them to take to the seas should be prosecuted and should be pursued” – see: PM says she’ll keep tabs on Manus Island.

The problem is Turnbull has essentially told Ardern that, in terms of the current crisis at least, Australia retains the right to decide New Zealand’s refugee policy on who is accepted into the country. And she has simply agreed to this.

Ardern could be accused of failing her first test on the world stage – one in which she could have made a real difference. Claire Trevett reports the advice of the lawyer for the Manus Island refugees, Greg Barns, who argues this crisis “provided Ardern with a chance to stamp her mark” – see: Manus could be PM Jacinda Ardern’s ‘Tampa moment’: Australian lawyer.

Barns is quoted as saying “Helen Clark did the right thing and it would be great if Jacinda Ardern did the same. It’s a chance for New Zealand to show moral leadership, which Australia has lacked now for 20 years.”

New Zealand has been fobbed off

Some journalists are suggesting Jacinda Ardern made progress in getting the Australian Prime Minister to take New Zealand’s offer of accepting refugees more seriously. Tracy Watkins says that “Replacing a flat ‘no’ with ‘maybe later’ is a clear – if subtle – softening of the earlier rejections of the New Zealand offer” – see: Turnbull’s warm welcome for Ardern underscores continuity in trans-Tasman relations.

Another perspective is that Turnbull has simply become more diplomatic in his rejection of help from New Zealand. After all, he is now under huge pressure, with the UN condemning the situation, and even his own former Minister of Immigration, Kevin Andrews, breaking ranks to say that the Australian Government needs to more seriously consider the offer. And furthermore, the bi-partisan consensus has also broken down, with the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, also calling for the government to let the refugees go to New Zealand.

With such intense pressure to yield to New Zealand, Turnbull’s change in language was really the bare minimum of what he needed to do, while at the same time not changing his actions. As Claire Trevett writes, “it was effectively a No Delayed” – see: Key bromance haunts Jacinda Ardern’s first Australia visit.

Australia continues to justify declining New Zealand’s offer to take refugees on the basis that the US has previously agreed to take 1,250 and therefore Turnbull wants to negotiate this first before considering New Zealand’s offer. Ardern therefore suggests that New Zealand’s offer is under “active consideration” by Australia, and she has been quoted as saying “I absolutely understand the priority that has been placed around the agreement with the United States” – see Michael McGowan’s report, Turnbull says he will consider NZ refugee deal only after US resettlements.

But according to Manus refugee Behrouz Boochani, the US agreement shouldn’t be believed: “They announced the deal a year ago but only 25 people sent to America. They are only playing with us and media, it’s a fake deal to waste time” – see Newshub’s US deal a lie, choose NZ – Manus refugee.

Similarly, Gordon Campbell suggests negotiations with the US will take a very long time, and therefore concludes that “Sooner rather than later, New Zealand has to stand up to Australia over its refugee policy. Otherwise, our silence and inaction will be taken as tacit acceptance, and we will be seen (accurately) as enabling Canberra’s systematically inhuman treatment of hundreds of the world’s most vulnerable people, and their families. The clock is now ticking on Ardern’s personal timetable” – see: On Ardern’s refugee non-deal.

Doing nothing of any substance about the crisis raises questions about whether the new Labour-led coalition government is complicit in Australia’s abusive operations. New Green MP – and former refugee – Golriz Ghahraman has been outspoken about the issue, being reported as saying “New Zealand’s silence has made it complicit in human rights abuse in Australian offshore detention” – see RNZ’s MP calls NZ’s Manus Island silence ‘complicity’.

And blogger David Farrar says this criticism could equally be applied to her own government – see: Is a Green MP calling Labour complicit in human rights violations?

New Zealand won’t take the refugees directly from Manus Island

Many are now suggesting that because Australia has abandoned the refugees, the New Zealand government should be able to simply rescue them without getting Australia’s prior approval. This is best expressed by Brian Rudman in his column, Time for a little gunboat diplomacy. He says, “It’s time to shame our Australian cousins by dispatching a naval vessel to Manus Island to rescue the 600 or so refugees trapped on Australia’s very own Devil’s Island.”

But Jacinda Ardern ruled this out today, because of New Zealand’s formal offer to the Australians: “No, no, because the offer is still under active consideration by Australia so there is no need to do so” – see Jane Patterson’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won’t bypass Australia over Manus.

On this, Gordon Campbell says: “For her part, Ardern has chosen not to confront Australia and has agreed to delay making the NZ resettlement offer directly to Papua New Guinea. Given the glacial pace of the US response, and the urgency of the humanitarian crisis on Manus, there is no justification for not proceeding with an approach to PNG right now.”

It also has to be pointed out that the current offer to Australia isn’t particularly radical, given the circumstances. Lawyer Felix Geiringer‏ (@BarristerNZ) has tweeted: “There is a humanitarian crises happening on our doorstep. It is time for more drastic action. Merely repeating John Key’s offer is not enough.” For other examples of social media reaction, see my blog post, Top tweets about the Australia-Manus-NZ situation.

Leftwing blogger Daphna Whitmore also points out that the current offer really isn’t generous: “It is the smallest of gestures from a country that does very little to extend a welcome to refugees. There are over 22 million refugees in the world and New Zealand is ranked at the bottom of the developed world when it comes taking refugees. Overall New Zealand is 110th in the world for refugees per capita adjusted for GDP. The offer to take 150 refugees is not in addition to the modest annual 1000 refugee intake. Ardern, like Key before her, made it clear this to be within the quota” – see: Manus Island: “It’s f******* disgraceful”.

RadioLive talkback host Alison Mau is advocating that New Zealand take all of the Manus Island refugees, saying “I can’t think of a nobler, more important contribution for our Prime Minister to make as her first political legacy, something that would be remembered as a source of pride for generations to come” – see: Tampa rescue is point of pride – but we’re too gutless to do it again.

Finally, for the brave speech that the New Zealand Prime Minister should have made if she wanted to truly make a principled stand in the weekend, see Toby Manhire’s Hey mate, this Manus thing’s got to stop. It includes the line: “Talk is cheap, I get that, and my government will be judged on the extent to which it all adds up to more than warm fuzziness.”

Indonesia cracks down on brutal conditions on foreign ‘slavery’ fishing boats

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Indonesia cracks down on brutal conditions on foreign ‘slavery’ fishing boats

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Former slaves head for home: Thousands of fishermen rescued from brutal conditions on foreign fishing boats make the journey back home, many after years at sea. As reported by Associated Press in September 2015. Video: AP on YouTube

By Jewel Topsfield of The Sydney Morning Herald in Jakarta

It’s hard to comprehend it happened in this century: human slaves trapped on fishing boats being whipped with poisonous stingray tails, having ice blocks thrown at them and being shot.

“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us,” says Hlaing Min, 30, a runaway slave from Benjina, a remote fisheries weight station in eastern Indonesia’s Aru Islands.

“There must be a mountain of bones under the sea…. The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”

In 2015 more than 1300 foreign fisherman from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos were rescued from Benjina and Ambon, after an Associated Press investigation revealed the brutal conditions aboard many foreign vessels reflagged to operate in Indonesian waters.

Extraordinary images of men being kept in a cage exposed the chilling reality of 21st century slavery.

“They were trafficked from their home country, mostly by means of deception, forced to work over 20 hours per day on a boat in the middle of the sea, with little to no chance of escape,” says a report on human trafficking in the Indonesian fishing industry released this week.

Some were kept at sea for years at a time.

After the rescue, the International Organisation for Migration interviewed the fishers.

Victims of human trafficking in the fishing industry pictured waiting for their back pay in Ambon, Indonesia. Photo: International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

They were told of excessive work hours — 78 percent of 285 victims interviewed in depth claimed they worked between 16 and 24 hours a day, cramped conditions, meals of watery fish gruel, physical and psychological abuse and even murder.

‘Several crews died’
“While on board, I often heard the news from the boat radio that several boat crews had died, either falling to the ocean, fighting or killed by the other crews,” a Cambodian fisher says in the report.

“While I was working on the boat, I saw with my own eyes more than seven dead bodies floating in the sea.”

A victim of human trafficking from Myanmar who was rescued from a fishing boat pictured in Ambon in Indonesia. Image: IOM

Witnesses testified that requesting to leave the boat could be a death sentence for some victims. Those who did might find themselves chained on the deck in the middle of the day or locked in the freezer.

“The heartrending stories of these fishers could not be left untold,” says IOM Indonesia’s chief of mission Mark Getchell.

The report says the Benjina and Ambon cases highlight the lack of adequate policing of the fishing industry and a lack of scrutiny of working conditions on ships and in fish processing plants.

Seafood caught by modern day slaves entered the global supply chain, with legitimate suppliers of fish “unaware of its provenance and the human toll behind the catch.”

“The situation in Benjina and Ambon is symptomatic of a much broader and insidious trade in people, not only in the Indonesian and Thai fishing industries, but indeed globally,” the report says.

Repatriation of enslaved fisherfmen
In 2015 the Australian government provided $2.17 million to IOM to support the daily care, repatriation and reintegration of formerly trafficked and enslaved fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, who had been stranded on islands in Indonesia’s Maluku province.

“This funding support has since been extended to enable IOM to provide assistance to foreign fishermen stranded in any area of Indonesia,” an Immigration Department spokesman said.

“This assistance plays a crucial role to support and protect victims of trafficking and slavery in the fishing industry by reuniting victims with their families and providing them with limited financial assistance which can help them establish an alternative livelihood.”

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said Australia provided the lion share of the funding for its emergency response to the human trafficking crisis, which included returning more than 1000 victims to their home countries.

“This would not have been possible without the Australian government,” he said.

At the launch of the report in Jakarta this week, Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti unveiled a new government decree requiring all fisheries companies to submit a detailed human rights audit.

This was one of the report’s key recommendations to protect fishermen and port workers from abuse.

“That being said, Indonesia still has homework towards the approximately 250,000 Indonesian crews on foreign vessels operating across continents that remain unprotected,” Pudjiastuti says in a foreword to the report.

The report also called for greater diligence in recording the movement of vessels in Indonesian waters, more training on human trafficking, independent inspections of ports and vessels at sea and centres in ports where fishers could seek protection.

Jewel Topsfield is the Jakarta-based Indonesia correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald.This article was first published by the SMH and has been republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.