Over 120 Indonesian citizens who were incarcerated in Australian adult prisons while still minors have reportedly reached a class-action settlement with the Australian government.
In response to this development, the Australian government has agreed to pay over 27 million Australian dollars, equivalent to approximately 268 billion Indonesian Rupiah, to the victims, some of whom were even charged with people smuggling.
At the time of their detention, some of these individuals were as young as 12 years old.
This settlement marks the latest in a series of cases related to Australia’s asylum-seeker policies.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Sam Tierney, expressed satisfaction with the outcome, stating, “It is fair to say that we are pleased with this result… it has been in progress for 10 years,” as reported by the BBC on Friday (6 Oct).
The majority of the applicants involved in this class action were detained on Christmas Island or in Darwin between 2009 and 2012 after arriving in Australia on people smuggling boats.
The plaintiffs claimed that they were lured into seafaring at a young age with promises of high-paying jobs, unaware of the true purpose of these vessels as they were used to transport asylum seekers.
Under Australian law at the time, underage crew members were supposed to be repatriated to their home countries rather than facing charges.
However, authorities relied on wrist X-ray analysis—which has since been discredited—to determine the age of these young individuals, imprisoning anyone they believed to be over 18.
Colin Singer, a prison guard who assisted in uncovering this case, told the BBC in 2018 that he believed the Australian government had “intentionally” detained these children.
He also claimed that the Indonesian government at the time had “no intention of doing anything” to assist them.
A critical report issued by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2012 found numerous violations of the rights of these Indonesian citizens and alleged mishandling of their cases.
Ali Jasmin, the lead plaintiff, also accused Australian officials involved in his case of negligence and racial discrimination.
The Australian government has previously settled several wrongful detention lawsuits in recent years.
In 2017, they agreed to pay 70 million Australian dollars in compensation to nearly 1,700 refugees and asylum-seekers after unlawfully detaining them in dangerous conditions on Manus Island.
Five years later, the Australian government settled a case involving an Iraqi asylum-seeker who was wrongfully detained for over two years in an immigration detention centre, awarding him a compensation payment of 350,000 Australian dollars.
The compensation offers made to the Indonesian citizens on Thursday (5 Oct) are pending final approval from the Federal Court before they can be disbursed.
Wrongful detention of 13-Year-Old Indonesian amid asylum seekers’ journey to Australia
One of the plaintiffs in this case is Ali Jasmin, born in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. He received a substantial sum of money as an offer to work as a crew member on a ship, without knowing exactly what the people offering him the job were actually doing.
One day, Ali and several others became crew members on a boat that sailed from the East Indonesian region to Java.
In the port of Muara Angke, Jakarta, a group of people, said to be from Afghanistan, boarded the ship. “I asked the captain, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon,'” Ali recalled.
Unbeknownst to them, the boat was heading illegally to Australia, and the individuals aboard were asylum-seekers or undocumented immigrants seeking to start new lives in Australia.
In the middle of the ocean, their boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy, and Ali was subsequently detained.
Ali was arrested in 2009 at the age of 13 and was charged with assisting in the smuggling of 55 Afghan immigrants into Australia. He was sentenced to five years in prison and spent time at the harsh Hakea Prison in Perth.
“I always stated that I was still a child, but I was sentenced to three years in prison because they said I was an adult,” Ali said.
However, the Australian authorities did not believe him and conducted an age assessment. The doctor who performed the X-ray analysis of his wrist bones concluded that he was 19 years old.
Several documents, including his birth certificate indicating he was 13 at the time, were sent to the Indonesian Consulate General in Perth, but these documents were not presented by the police in court.
Ali, who was released in 2012, reported the case to the Australian Human Rights Commission for alleged human rights violations and has been fighting for compensation ever since.
The fate of Ali was shared by approximately 50 other children from Kupang, Alor, and Rote in East Nusa Tenggara.
In 2017, the Western Australian Court of Appeal overturned Ali’s conviction, citing errors in the previous judgment.
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