Australia tells In­done­sia to fix its bor­ders in mi­grant spat


Australia on Mon­day told In­done­sia to bet­ter se­cure its bor­ders in a sting­ing re­buke af­ter Jakarta de­manded an­swers to al­le­ga­tions Can­berra paid to turn back a boat of asy­lum seek­ers.

The re­sponse from For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop came af­ter the In­done­sian for­eign min­istry on Satur­day said if the claims were true, it would be “a new low for the way that the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment is han­dling this is­sue,” while ask­ing for an ex­pla­na­tion.

Claims that the cap­tain and five crew of a boat, car­ry­ing mi­grants from Bangladesh, Myan­mar and Sri Lanka, were each paid US$5,000 by an Aus­tralian im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial to turn back to In­done­sia were made to In­done­sian po­lice on Rote is­land in the coun­try’s east last week.

Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott has re­fused to deny the al­le­ga­tions, with the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party writ­ing to the au­di­tor-gen­eral re­quest­ing an ur­gent in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Greens party was also due Mon­day to ask the up­per house Se­nate to de­mand the gov­ern­ment ta­ble doc­u­ments de­tail­ing any pay­ments.

Bishop sug­gested in an in­ter­view with The Aus­tralian news­pa­per that In­done­sia was to blame for fail­ing to prop­erly man­age its bor­ders.

“I look for­ward to hear­ing the full re­sults of In­done­sia’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the peo­ple-smug­gling crimes com­mit­ted in In­done­sia,” she said.

This, she added, should in­clude “any breaches of pass­port and visa laws, and es­tab­lish­ing whether the cap­tains and crews of th­ese boats are part of peo­plesmug­gling syn­di­cates or are paid by them”.

“The best way for In­done­sia to re­solve any con­cerns it has about Op­er­a­tion Sovereign Bor­ders is for In­done­sia to en­force sovereignty over its bor­ders,” Bishop said, re­fer­ring to Australia’s anti-peo­ple smug­gling pol­icy.

“Op­er­a­tion Sovereign Bor­ders is nec­es­sary be­cause In­done­sian boats with In­done­sian crews are leav­ing In­done­sia with the ex­press in­ten­tion of breaching our sovereignty, fa­cil­i­tated by il­le­gal peo­plesmug­gling syn­di­cates.”

‘Do not blame In­done­sia’

Agus Bar­nas, a spokesman for In­done­sia’s se­cu­rity min­istry, said Bishop was wrong to sim­ply blame his coun­try and warned that if the pay­ment al­le­ga­tions were true it “will drive In­done­sian crew and fish­er­men to race among them­selves for ex­tra money.”

“In­done­sian wa­ters are vast and we have limited man­power,” he told AFP.

“And we are not talk­ing about one or two mi­grant boats, but many. They are run by syn­di­cates and they en­ter il­le­gally so we can­not deal with this mat­ter on our own.

“The mi­grant is­sue must in­volve co­op­er­a­tion among source, tran­sit and des­ti­na­tion coun­tries. Do not just blame In­done­sia.”

Ab­bott’s con­ser­va­tive coali­tion im­ple­mented a tough im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy af­ter com­ing to power in Septem­ber 2013 that in­cluded mil­i­tary-led ef­forts to turn back such boats, which mostly come from In­done­sia.

The hard-line pol­icy also in­volves send­ing asy­lum seek­ers that ar­rive by boat to camps on the Pa­cific is­lands of Nauru and Pa­pua New Guinea de­spite strong crit­i­cism from rights groups. They are banned from set­tling in Australia even if found to be gen­uine refugees.

Only one boat with asy­lum­seek­ers has reached the Aus­tralian main­land since De­cem­ber 2013. Be­fore the pol­icy was in­tro­duced, boats were ar­riv­ing al­most daily, with hun­dreds drown­ing en route.

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