Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to deny that his country's navy officers paid smugglers thousands of dollars to turn back a migrant boat on Friday, saying the government will stop the boats "by hook or by crook."
Australian officials have reportedly paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a refugee boat that was carrying asylum seekers, local media reported on Thursday.
One of the Indonesian captains on board the boat said they were given $5000 for each member by an Australian customs officer to abandon their journey and return to Indonesia. The sixty five migrants arrived in Indonesia and were stranded there on May 31.
While Australia’s foreign and immigration ministers have denied the allegations, PM Abbott has repeatedly refused to do so.
Abbott told an Australian radio that his government uses "creative strategies" to stop the boats, adding "by hook or by crook we are going to stop the trade."
When later asked questions about allegations, he said "we don't go into the details of operational measures to fight crime, we don't go into the details of operational measures on national security, and I'm certainly not going to go into the details of operational matters on the water now," Abbott told reporters.
He also dodged questions about whether it was acceptable to pay people smugglers, and whether there should be an investigation.
No migrants and asylum seekers are allowed to reach Australian territories by boat. They are either intercepted at sea and turned back or taken to detention facilities on the island nation of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
The United Nations and human rights groups have criticised Australia over its tough asylum-seeker policy, accusing the country of shirking international obligations.
Indonesia has voiced concerns over the "payment to smugglers" claim, saying such payments may encourage people smuggling in the region. Australia's opposition parties have questioned the legal aspects of paying money to smugglers.
Labor's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, called on the government to clarify the issue, while Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said paying asylum boat crews could be breaking domestic and international law.