Amnesty calls for inquiry into Australia's boat policy

Amnesty International calls investigation into Australian officials who allegedly paid people smugglers to turn back boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia committed transnational crime

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Migrants, found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during heavy rain fall at a temporary refuge camp near the Kanyin Chaung jetty and outside Maungdaw township in the Rakhine state of Burma on June 4 2015

Amnesty International says Australian officials who allegedly paid the crew of a New Zealand-bound people-smuggling boat to turn back a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia committed a transnational crime and put asylum seekers lives at  great risk.

Amnesty International called authorities for a formal public inquiry and called for independent observer of border control operations.

"All of the available evidence points to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime by, in effect, directing a people-smuggling operation, paying a boat crew and then instructing them on exactly what to do and where to land in Indonesia," refugee researcher at Amnesty International Anna Shea announced on Thursday.

"People-smuggling is a crime usually associated with private individuals, not governments - but here we have strong evidence that Australian officials are not just involved, but directing operations," she said in a statement.

Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer stated that Prime Minister John Key needs to convince New Zealanders that the government has no  affiliation with the pay-off.

“Our government should be making how we feel crystal clear to our neighbours across the ditch, as well as reassuring Kiwis it has had no involvement in any of this,” Mr Shearer said.

Even though the Australian government has continued to reject all claims on paying the smugglers the incident that already triggered a parliamentary inquiry and excited attention Jakarta and the United Nations.

Amnesty said it had spoken to all the asylums on the boat and the six crew members who indicated that Australian officials illegally paid them around $32,000 in May to return asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Australia adopted one of the toughest stands against asylum seekers trying to reach its shores by boat.

Australia’s asylum policy

Australia’s policy of attempting to prevent asylum seekers from reaching its shores on boats has been controversial for a long time. The government has taken strict measures to stop an influx of refugees into the country and keep asylum seekers in refugee camps in the South Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

However, this policy came following the arrest of a boat captain and two crew members in June over the suspicion of human trafficking, they had told Indonesian police that Australian officials paid them to take their vessel with 65 asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

As part of this problematic policy, Australia signed an agreement with Cambodia to resettle refugees detained at the Nauru detention centre.

Cambodia would take some refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea in return for aid. This was a highly controversial agreement because Cambodia has also been accused of abuses.

Al Jazeera reported that just four refugees have been resettled to Cambodia from Nauru, but the country's government would receive AU$40million (USD$28m) in additional aid.

Richard Marles, Australia’s opposition spokesman, described it as an “expensive joke.”

Meanwhile thousands of Australians throughout country rallied against refugee detention centers  and asked the government to increase its refugee intake, close the Manus Island and Nauru refugee camps and stop turning back the refugees that managed to reach the island.

TRTWorld and agencies