Two arrested near Newcastle and Cairns for connection with attempted people smuggling venture

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has conducted simultaneous operations in the NSW Hunter and Far North Queensland regions and arrested two people, for their alleged involvement in an attempted people smuggling venture earlier this year, which was intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) en-route to Australia.

Yesterday (23 June 2020), AFP officers executed search warrants in the Newcastle suburb of Birmingham Gardens, and the Queensland suburb of Mareeba, close to Cairns.

It is alleged the men were part of an international people smuggling network, where potential illegal immigrants attempting to enter Australia would be told they would have to undertake work for a year without income in “debt bondage”, to repay the criminal syndicate’s costs for their journey.

Investigations began in early 2020, when the AFP received information about an alleged people smuggling network attempting to transit illegal arrivals to Australia.

On 24 January 2020, two men were travelling in a vehicle in a remote area of the Northern Territory when their vehicle became stranded in a water crossing. A distress call for assistance alerted the Northern Territory Police.

It will be alleged the two men, aged 30 and 31, claimed they were in the area on a camping trip. NT officers observed the men only carried a carton of water and one small bag between them.

Subsequent investigations by the AFP led investigators to believe the pair were in the area to act as the “shore party” to meet a potential vessel, believed to be carrying illegal maritime arrivals, and to facilitate their onwards journey in Australia. No such vessel reached the Australian mainland.

The two men continued to be the subject of ongoing police enquiries while sufficient evidence was gathered to allow charges to be laid.

Yesterday morning, the men were arrested in their homes in Birmingham Gardens, NSW and Mareeba, QLD.

Investigators executed search warrants at the properties, where they uncovered visa applications on a computer hard drive, seizing mobile phones, computers, and documents.

Both men have been charged with one count each of facilitated the entry of a group of five or more unlawful non-citizens into Australia, contrary to section 233C of the Migration Act 1958.

Enquiries are continuing with overseas authorities through the AFP’s International Command in relation to this suspected smuggling network.

AFP Commander Crime Coordination Paul Osborne said the arrests are a reminder that anyone who attempts to profit from putting another person’s life at risk remains firmly in law enforcement’s sights.

“We know that people smugglers operate across borders and regions in an attempt to promise something they cannot deliver; illegal access to Australia,” Commander Osborne said.

“The AFP’s International Command works closely with Joint Agency Task Force OSB and agencies in source and transit countries to disrupt any illegal maritime people smuggling ventures targeting Australia.”

“Our combined focus is to protect the lives and safety of these people, who people smugglers seek to take advantage of, and to secure Australia’s borders.”

The Commander Joint Agency Task Force OSB, Major General Craig Furini AM, CSC welcomed the AFP arrest.

“The intercept at sea and subsequent arrest highlights the strength of Australia’s interagency approach to combatting people smuggling. Collectively we are committed to protecting Australia’s border, combatting people smuggling and preventing vulnerable people from losing their lives at sea.

“Since the implementation of OSB in 2013, Australia has returned 873 people from 38 people smuggling ventures to their country of origin or departure.”

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is one of 16 Federal Government agencies contributing to Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders.

The 30-year-old Birmingham Gardens man appeared before Newcastle Local Court yesterday, where he was refused bail. He has been remanded in custody until his next court appearance on Thursday, 3 September 2020.

The 31-year-old Mareeba man was remanded in custody, scheduled to appear in Mareeba Court today (Wednesday, 24 June 2020).

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