People smugglers selling visas for Australia: report

SYDNEY (AFP) - People smugglers are selling passports and visas to Australia for up to US$15,000 (S$18,705), allowing asylum-seekers to bypass a perilous boat journey and fly into the country, a report said on Monday.

The development comes as Australia hardens its stance against asylum-seekers arriving by unauthorised boats by sending them to Papua New Guinea and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru for resettlement.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it secretly filmed meetings in Malaysia between an Iraqi known as Abu Tarek and potential customers, in which he offered to provide the documents.

"An Australian visa, everything is proper - genuine passport, genuine visa," Tarek said, the ABC's Four Corners programme reported.

"They bring it straight from the embassy complete and you fly in your name."

The Iraqi said that asylum-seekers using passports issued by Bahrain and Oman had boarded flights out of the country and then applied for asylum on arriving at an Australian airport.

"Yes, to Australia, New Zealand, lots of people have arrived there," he said, reportedly revealing that he sold two types of Australian travel documents - holiday visas and transit visas for flights going on to New Zealand.

The report said that asylum-seekers were advised to use the passports, then tear up the documents before arriving in Australia.

The investigation also alleged that a people-smuggling syndicate targetting people from northern Lebanon, near the border with Syria, was being organised from a jail in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

It said Iraqi national Abu Saleh, in jail over the nightclub stabbing death of a man, had organised a people-smuggling boat which sank in September off Indonesia, leaving more than 40 people dead.

The report quoted Lebanese asylum-seeker Abdullah al Qisi saying he was escorted to meet Saleh in jail by police.

"I found Abu Saleh. He was like a king. He always have six, seven phones and like $100,000 on the table," he said.

Canberra has attempted to crackdown on asylum-seekers arriving by boat, often unseaworthy wooden fishing boats, since July by refusing to resettle them in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees, instead sending them offshore.

The policy has resulted in a dramatic drop in the arrival of boatpeople, which hit 50,000 in the previous financial year.