Australia accused of paying people smugglers

2015-10-28 17:32
Iranian asylum seekers who were caught in Indonesian waters while sailing to Australia, sit on a boat, at Benoa port in Bali, Indonesia. (Firdia Lisnawati, AP)

Iranian asylum seekers who were caught in Indonesian waters while sailing to Australia, sit on a boat, at Benoa port in Bali, Indonesia. (Firdia Lisnawati, AP)

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Sydney - Australian officials paid people smugglers to take their cargo of migrants back to Indonesia, according to an Amnesty International report released on Wednesday.

The findings, based on interviews with crew members in prison, confirms earlier reports of the May incident, but comes amid persistent refusal to comment from Australia's then prime minister Tony Abbott.

The report titled By Hook or by Crook says the officials paid $32 000 to six crew of a boat taking 65 people seeking asylum in New Zealand, to instead take them to Indonesia.

The officials also gave them a map of Indonesia and told them where to land, the report said.

It raises questions about whether Australian officials paid the crew of another boat turned back in July, the report said.

Indonesian police confirmed they found the cash in crisp $100 bills on the crew when they arrested them, Amnesty said.

"All of the available evidence points to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime by, in effect, directing a people-smuggling operation," said Anna Shea, refugee researcher at Amnesty International, in a statement.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told dpa there was no comment before they had a chance to examine the Amnesty report.

Never smuggle people

In June, Abbott declined to respond directly to the allegations, saying that "the government will do whatever we need to do to keep this evil trade stopped."

"I just don't want to go into details," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW. Three ministers had earlier denied any payments were made.

The boat's captain in June told Indonesian police in the presence of reporters that he and his five crew were paid to take the passengers back to Indonesia and never smuggle people again, the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.

The title of Amnesty's report was taken from Abbott's promise this year to stop migrant boats "by hook or by crook."

The government says the policy of turning boats back or taking the migrants to offshore detention centres has reduced the number of people dying in rickety boats trying to reach Australia.

Abbott was replaced in September by Malcolm Turnbull, who is seen as more moderate but has continued the policy, which is also supported by the Labour opposition.

Read more on:    amnesty international  |  australia  |  indonesia  |  refugees

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