A FEDERAL police sweep spanning from the Hunter to tropical Queensland has ended with two people under arrest for alleged involvement in a people smuggling operation.
Operation Sovereign Borders intercepted the venture earlier this year, leading Australian Federal Police to execute search warants in Birmingham Gardens and Mareeba, close to Cairns, on Tuesday.
"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," the AFP said in a statement.
The investigation began early this year after a tip-off about an alleged people smuggling network attempting to transit illegal arrivals to Australia.
The information came after Northern Territory police were called to a remote area on January 24 when two men became stranded in a water crossing.
While it is alleged the men, 30 and 31, said they were on a camping trip they were carrying only a carton of water and one small bag.
The AFP said subsequent investigations led them to believe the men were a shore party, there to meet a potential vessel carrying arriving asylum seekers and to help them travel to more populated areas.
No vessel arrived on the mainland, but police said the two men were subject to ongoing inquiries while evidence was gathered.
That led to the arrests on Tuesday.
Search warrants at the Queensland and Birmingham Gardens properties allegedly yielded visa applications on a computer hard drive, mobile phones, computers and other documents.
Both men were charged with one count each of facilitating the entry of a group of five or more unlawful non-citizens into Australia, a breach of the Migration Act 1958.
Inquiries continue with overseas authorities into the network it is alleged the men were involved with.
AFP Commander Crime Coordination Paul Osborne said the arrests were a reminder that these types of alleged offences would be treated seriously.
"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."
Commander of the Operation Sovereign Borders joint agency task force Major General Craig Furini said 873 people from 38 smuggling ventures had been returned to their country of origin or departure since 2013.
"The intercept at sea and subsequent arrest highlights the strength of Australia's interagency approach to combatting people smuggling," he said.
"Collectively we are committed to protecting Australia's border, combatting people smuggling and preventing vulnerable people from losing their lives at sea."
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