Oz paid asy­lum-seeker boat to turn back: po­lice

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

The cap­tain and crew of a boat car­ry­ing 65 asy­lum-seek­ers say Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties paid them thou­sands of dol­lars to turn around and re­turn to In­done­sian wa­ters, po­lice said Wed­nes­day.

The mi­grants from Bangladesh, Myan­mar and Sri Lanka came ashore on Rote is­land in eastern In­done­sia in late May, af­ter they were in­ter­cepted en route to New Zealand by the Aus­tralian navy.

The cap­tain and five boat crew, who are all be­ing de­tained in Rote on peo­ple-smug­gling charges, told po­lice they were each paid US$5,000 by an Aus­tralian im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial to turn back to In­done­sia, lo­cal po­lice chief Hi­dayat told AFP.

“They were then told to take two smaller boats and turn back into In­done­sia af­ter the money changed hands,” Hi­dayat said.

“I saw the money with my own eyes. This is the first time I’d heard Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties mak­ing pay­ments to boat crew.”

The of­fice of Aus­tralian Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton on Wed­nes­day de­clined to com­ment on the al­le­ga­tions.

“The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment does not com­ment on or dis­close op­er­a­tional de­tails where this would prej­u­dice the out­come of cur­rent or fu­ture op­er­a­tions,” it said in a state­ment.

The mi­grants, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren who are be­ing housed in a small ho­tel in the eastern In­done­sian city of Ku­pang, have cor­rob­o­rated the ac­count given by the crew.

Naz­mul Hasan, a Bangladeshi mi­grant act­ing as the group’s spokesman, told AFP they re­al­ized some­thing had hap­pened when the boat charted a new course.

“We knew that the crew re­ceived money when we asked the cap­tain why we were not con­tin­u­ing our jour­ney to Australia,” he said.

“He told us that he re­ceived some money from the Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties.”

Australia’s con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced tough im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies in 2013 to stop an in­flux of would-be refugees. Asy­lum­seek­ers ar­riv­ing on ves­sels are sent to Pa­cific camps and ves­sels are turned back when it is safe to do so, or taken back to their coun­try of ori­gin.

The new ar­rivals in eastern In­done­sia came as Southeast Asia grap­pled with a sep­a­rate hu­man-traf­fick­ing cri­sis, which saw thou­sands of mi­grants come ashore af­ter a Thai crack­down threw the il­licit trade into chaos.

Around 1,800 Ro­hingya from Myan­mar as well as Bangladeshis ar­rived in In­done­sia’s Aceh prov­ince last month alone, while oth­ers landed in Malaysia and Thai­land.

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