Bribing smugglers to steer off Australia
Australian officials paid thousands of dollars to the captain and
crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers, who were then returned to
Indonesia, according to passengers and an Indonesian police chief.
A boat with 65 people from
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar was intercepted by Australian
authorities recently and diverted to Indonesia (SMH)
Sixty-five people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were
seeking asylum in New Zealand, had their boat intercepted by the
Australian Navy and Customs officials in late May, and were then
returned to the island of Rote.
The Indonesian police chief on Rote, Hidayat, said the six crew
members said they had been given US$5000 each by Australian officials.
The crew were apprehended when they arrived at Rote and are being
processed for people-smuggling offences.
Hidayat said the captain,Yohanes, told him they had been given the
money by an Australian customs officer called Agus, who spoke fluent
Indonesian. The other crew members had corroborated Yohanes' story.
"I saw the money, the US$5000 was in US$100 banknotes," he said. The
crew had US$30,000 in total, which was wrapped in six black plastic
bags, he said.
Whenraker asked whether Australian officials had recently paid the
crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers to stay away from Australia,
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton simply said, "No."
He refused to answer follow-up questions, citing the government's
policy of not commenting on "on-water matters."
A letter to the New Zealand Government signed by all 65 asylum
seekers on board says Australian officials paid the six crew members at
least $A7000 each.
"Then they take away our better boat and give two small boats that
had just a little dry foods like biscuits and chocolates, and they also
give very little fuel, just 200 litres for four to five hour journey,"
the letter says.
Nazmul Hassan, a Bangladeshi on board the boat, said he saw the
skipper put money in his pocket.
He said the crew initially told Australian officials they couldn't go
back to Indonesia because they could be jailed for people smuggling.
However, after a meeting the captain reportedly said: "We have to go
back. Australia want to pay for us."
"After they finished the meeting, everyone looked happy and they
agreed to the proposal," Hassan said from Inaboi, a hostel in Kupang,
Indonesia, where the asylum seekers are being detained.
"We didn't say anything because they didn't give us time to talk."
The asylum seekers swam ashore after their boat hit rocks near
Landuti island in the West Rote District of Indonesia, 500 kilometres
north-east of the Australian coast.
Hidayat said it was the first time he had heard of Australian
payments to people smugglers and that he was surprised the crew members
had that amount of cash.
"Boat crews are usually very poor," he said. "I even sent the money
to their villages upon their request."
Hidayat said he had not confiscated the money. "What for? It is not
crime-related," he said.
"I still wonder who Agus is and what is his motivation to give money
to boat crews. Maybe he wanted them to go out of Australian border so he
gave them the money."
An Immigration Department Spokesman said: "The Australian Government
does not comment on or disclose operational details where this would
prejudice the outcome of current or future operations."
Former Immigration Department executive Peter Hughes, who now works
at the Australian National University as an expert on refugee policies
and international migration, said if the payment was true, the move
would be unprecedented.
"I have never heard of that happening before," Hughes said.
In the letter to the New Zealand Government, the asylum seekers said
they had set off for New Zealand on May 5, after living in Indonesia for
a few months.
"Then we hope you [New Zealand] can give asylum and you can also give
a peaceful life for us," the letter says.
It says the boat was intercepted and searched by Australian customs
officers on May 17, who warned: "You don't try to come in Australia and
don't try to use Australia water area also."
The letter says the navy and Customs returned six days later and
removed the captain for a secret six-hour interview.
It says the asylum seekers were then removed from their boat and kept
in jail-like conditions on a navy ship for several days. "Then they
separate our six sailors and donated them by giving at least $A7200 per
person. They never ask to¬ us any opinions and they also never accept
our petition," the letter says.
On about May 31, they were then given two smaller boats and sent back
Hassan said, Australian authorities had burnt their original boat
because it had sufficient supplies for them to continue their journey to
New Zealand. Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at the
Australian National University, said if money had been handed out, it
could be interpreted as a form of people smuggling. However, he
questioned the motive of the officials to do it.
Professor Rothwell said, it was unlikely to breach any laws under the
"The great significance is how this decision would be seen in regards
of our regional neighbours," he said. "If Australian officials were to
pay crews to take those people to Indonesia, I suspect that Indonesia
and some other regional neighbours would take a dim view of that conduct
"I cannot recall any situation where Australian officials have paid
Sydney Morning Herald