The Australian prime minister and his ministers are refusing to deny claims that authorities paid Indonesian crew USD5,000 each on a people smuggling operation to turn back.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has gone on record, saying he would stop the boats “by hook or by crook”. He has refused to respond to a “please explain” from the Indonesian foreign minister.
Indonesian police last week reported a boat was intercepted by the Australian navy and customs on 5 May, carrying 65 migrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, including women and young children.
The migrants claim they were transferred to a more seaworthy boat, given provisions, and escorted back into Indonesian waters. They washed up off the eastern Indonesian island of Rote on 1 June. All migrants interviewed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Indonesian police said they witnessed the crew being paid USD5,000 each.
Professor of International Law at the University of Indonesia, Juwana Hikmahanto, said in statements provided to IHS Maritime that if the allegations were true, it would not only be against the UN Refugee Convention and in breach of human rights but, potently, corruption and people smuggling.
Hikmahanto also pointed out that paying crew would only be an incentive for more Indonesian fishermen to join people smuggling operations, putting their lives in danger, not only at sea, but on their return when the people smugglers could take retribution.
Both Indonesia and the UNHCR are investigating the claims, while in Australia, opposition parties are calling for an urgent independent investigation.
Professor of International Law at the Australian National University, Donald Rothwell, said Australia’s actions could be tantamount to people smuggling.
The Australian foreign minister, however, has called for Indonesia to fix the problem by securing its borders.