SYDNEY - Australia has dismissed claims made by Amnesty International that officials may have broken the law by paying people smugglers to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia. The government in Canberra has called the allegations a disgrace. Amnesty International says it has proof that Australian officials paid people traffickers to turn back boats.
The allegations are made in a new report that claims the lives of asylum seekers who had paid the smugglers for unauthorized passage to Australia were put at risk in two incidents in May and July.
Amnesty has insisted that after one boat was intercepted by Australian authorities passengers were put on two smaller vessels - one of which sank in Indonesian waters. Those onboard managed to swim to safety.
Amnesty International's Anna Shea said she has evidence that people smugglers were paid off by Australia.
“The crew members told me they received the money and the Indonesian officials told me that this money was found on them. I also saw the money itself so this is money that is still in the custody of the Indonesian police and they showed me dozens of $100 U.S. bills and said that they found this money on the Indonesian crew members,” said Shea.
The Australian government has previously rejected the allegations of misconduct by its border force personnel, and Immigration minister Peter Dutton dismissed Amnesty’s claims.
“They don't like operation Sovereign Borders; they try and attack the Border Force staff and the mobile staff and I think it's a disgrace. I think in the end you can take the word of the people smugglers or you can take the word of our staff at Australian Border Force and people make their own judgments,” said Dutton.
Amnesty is now calling for a judicial inquiry into Australia’s border policies, which involve the navy turning back or towing asylum boats away from its northern waters.
Canberra has said Operation Sovereign Borders has reduced the flow of unauthorized arrivals to barely a trickle, insisting that many lives had been saved as a result because migrants were no longer embarking on a dangerous sea crossing trying to reach Australia by boat from countries such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Australia offers refugee visas to almost 14,000 displaced people annually through various international treaties.