Indonesia has lashed out at Australia over claims that Australian authorities bribed smugglers to turn back a migrant boat, and said Canberra would have stooped to a "new low" if the reports are true.
Under Australia's tough migrant policy asylum-seekers in boats are not allowed to land in the country. They are instead sent to detention camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Australian officials have reportedly paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a refugee boat that was carrying asylum seekers to abandon their journey and return to Indonesia. The sixty five migrants, including children and one pregnant woman, were stranded in Indonesia on May 31.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to deny the claims, saying his government uses "creative strategies" to stop the boats, and "by hook or by crook we are going to stop the trade."
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told Reuters that "should this situation be confirmed and it turns out to be true, it would be a new low for the way the government of Australia handles the situation on irregular migration."
Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi also talked with Australia's ambassador Paul Grigson about the issue, voicing his country's concerns and demanding clarification.
The United Nations and human rights groups have criticised Australia over its tough asylum-seeker policy, accusing the country of shirking international obligations.
Indonesia says "payment to smugglers" may encourage people smuggling in the region. Australia's opposition parties have also questioned the legal aspects of paying money to smugglers.
Nasir told Anadolu Agency that Indonesia would consider lodging a protest note with Australia or summoning its diplomats in Jakarta if its investigation proves that the claims are true.
"There was a pregnant woman and children on board... That [Australia's alleged] action endangered people's lives because it occurred in the middle of the sea," he said.
"This a problem of humanity. We have to have empathy with other humans in trouble at sea."