Indonesia's Foreign Ministry said Thursday it is "very concerned'' by claims that Australian officials paid the crew of a boat carrying 65 migrants, including children and a pregnant woman, to return to Indonesian waters.
Police in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province said the boat's captain and five crew members detained on remote Rote island claimed they were each paid $5,000 after being intercepted by an Australian navy ship on May 20.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the Indonesian government was concerned that if such payments were happening, they could encourage human trafficking.
Australia has a policy of turning back and refusing to resettle any refugee who arrives on its shores by boat.
Police said the boat was carrying 65 migrants, mainly from Sri Lanka and a fewer number from Bangladesh, and was attempting to reach New Zealand.
According to the account given to police by the detained crew, their vessel was boarded off Christmas Island in Australian waters by a navy officer who spoke Indonesian and negotiated their return to Indonesian territory. Australian authorities provided two different boats along with enough fuel and food to return to Indonesian waters, the crew said, according to police.
Hidayat, a local police chief on Rote island, said the migrants came ashore on May 31 after locals reported the boats stranded in nearby waters. They were taken to an immigration detention center in the provincial capital Kupang on Tuesday.
"I saw the money and even counted it together with the crew during interrogation,'' said Hidayat, who uses one name. "But I don't want to speculate before the investigation is complete.''
Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the department doesn't comment on current operational matters.
"At the appropriate time, we'll make comments about turn-backs where we've done it, where it's been safe to do so,'' he told radio station 2GB.
Arrmanatha, the Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman, said children including three of a very young age and a pregnant woman were among the migrants.