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Afghan charged over smuggling over 250 asylum seekers to Australia

SYDNEY: An Afghan man who reportedly made millions of dollars smuggling asylum-seekers to Australia by boat has been extradited from Indonesia and charged with 10 offences, Australian police said Friday.

Ahmad Zia Alizadah, who was flown from Jakarta to Perth on Thursday, is accused of charging 263 asylum-seekers between US$4,000 to US$10,000 each for the perilous boat trips, The Australian newspaper reported.

Although such extraditions remain rare, they are part of the conservative government’s tough policy on asylum-seekers, which includes turning back boats or sending those apprehended to isolated Pacific Island camps.

Alizadah, 35, was extradited and charged with 10 offences for allegedly organising four such journeys from Indonesia to Australia between 2009-2010.

“People-smuggling is a crime with global dimensions that can only be tackled through hard work and cooperation with our international partners,” the Australian government said in a statement.

Under the current policy, boatpeople are held indefinitely at the centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island while their refugee applications are processed, and are blocked from resettling in Australia.

Since the measures were adopted, Australia has marked more than 1,000 days since the last asylum-seeker vessel reached its shores. Such arrivals were almost a daily occurrence under the previous Labor administration.

Canberra, which insists the measures are necessary to prevent deaths at sea, has faced widespread criticism by refugee advocates and medical professionals over the Pacific camps’ conditions.

The Manus camp is set to close by October after a PNG Supreme Court ruling declared that holding people there was unconstitutional and illegal, with the detainees relocated to third countries such as the United States and Cambodia, or resettled elsewhere in PNG.

The harsh policy also stoked tensions with Jakarta, amid allegations two years ago that an Australian official paid the captain and crew of a boat carrying asylum-seekers thousands of dollars to turn back.

Under the previous Labor government, at least 1,200 people died trying to reach Australia by boat between 2008 and 2013. Almost 850 vessels carrying 51,798 asylum-seekers arrived in Australia between those dates, according to figures complied by the Australian parliament. – Agencies

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