Australian navy accused of paying people smugglers to turn boats back to Indonesian waters

Boat carrying 260 Srilankan asylum seekers (2009)ReutersBoat carrying Srilankan asylum-seekers

Reports that the Australian navy paid off the crew of a boat full of asylum-seekers to turn back to Indonesian waters have surfaced, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not denying them, the BBC reports.

Australian immigration and foreign ministers have denied the allegations, but Abbott’s refusal to do so has left Indonesia’s foreign ministry “very concerned.”

The Prime Minister also mentioned that Australia was getting “very creative” when it comes to keeping migrants from reaching the country.

“We have used a whole range of measures to stop the boats, because that’s what the Australian people elected us to do,” Abbott said. He continued to say that the government would stop the boats “by hook or by crook“.

Indonesia’s police said this week that they detained the crew of a boat that told them an Australian navy ship intercepted them and paid them each $US3,900 to turn back.

“I saw the money with my own eyes,” the local police chief told AFP. “This is the first time I’d heard [of] Australian authorities making payments to boat crew.” Passengers had similar accounts.

Australia immigration flyerAustralian governmentAn example of an Australian anti-immigration poster

Indonesia foreign ministry is taking the matter very seriously and are now investigating the claims.

“This is endangering life. They were in the middle of the sea, but were pushed back,” foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said.

Over the last year, Abbott introduced hard-line policies to stop immigrants from reaching Australia.

The measures have been critiqued by the UN and other international organisations. Rights groups have also accused Australia of violating international law “by returning possible refugees to the country where they were being persecuted.”

Professor of International Law at the Australian National University Don Rothwellm, said that if Australian navy actually handed money to the boat crew, they could be accused of people smuggling.

“If a state such as Australia is making that payment that would be seen as tantamount to people smuggling,” Rothwellm told ABC.

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