New evidence gathered by Amnesty International suggests that Australia’s maritime border control operations now resemble a lawless venture with evidence of criminal activity, pay-offs to boat crews and abusive treatment of women, men and children seeking asylum.
Through interviews with asylum-seekers, a boat crew and Indonesian police, a new report – By hook or by crook – exposes evidence that, in May 2015, Australian officials working as part of Operation Sovereign Borders paid six crew who had been taking 65 people seeking asylum to New Zealand USD 32,000 and told them to take the people to Indonesia instead. The Australians also provided maps showing the crew where to land in Indonesia.
Witness testimonies backed by video footage reveal how the intervention by Australian officials endangered the lives of the people seeking asylum by transferring them to different boats that did not have enough fuel, and how the incident fits into a wider pattern of abusive so-called “turnbacks” or “pushbacks” of boats.
The report also raises questions about whether Australian officials paid money to the crew of another boat turned back in July.
“Australia has, for months, denied that it paid for people smuggling, but our report provides detailed evidence pointing to a very different set of events,” said Anna Shea, Refugee Researcher at Amnesty International.
“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. 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.
“In the two incidents documented by Amnesty International, Border Force and Navy officials also put the lives of dozens of people at risk by forcing them onto poorly equipped vessels. When it comes to its treatment of those seeking asylum, Australia is becoming a lawless state.”
Australian government officials have repeatedly denied paying people-smugglers and have claimed the border patrols were responding to a boat in distress at sea. (Colombo Gazette)