Australia paid people smugglers to turn back refugee boats – report

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Australia's maritime border control allegedly paid people smugglers to turn back refugee boats headed for New Zealand. The claims made by Amnesty International also accuse Canberra of essentially colluding with a people-smuggling operation.

The human rights organization alleges that the incident took place in May 2015. They say that Australian officials, who were working as part of the Operation Sovereign Borders program, paid six crew members a total of US $32,000 to make sure they did not continue on to New Zealand, which had been their intended target.

Instead, Amnesty International believes that the crew returned to Indonesia, with 65 people who had been seeking asylum in New Zealand. The Australians also provided detailed maps and told the crew where they should land in Indonesia.

Anna Shea, a Refugee Researcher at Amnesty International she was shocked at the findings, which were published in a report called ‘By hook or by crook.’ She added that people-smuggling was normally a crime associated with private individuals and “not governments,” and mentioned that the rights group had “strong evidence” that “Australian officials are not just involved, but directing operations.”

“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,” Shea said.

“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,” she added.

The Australian government has denied the claims, saying the border patrols were merely responding to a boat that had run into trouble at sea.

However, this claim has been refuted by both the boat’s crew members and by the passengers, who all spoke to Amnesty International. They say that the vessel never made a distress call and was never in trouble.

Amnesty International also uncovered video evidence, which shows money being confiscated from the six crew members in “crisp US $100 bills.”

Australia’s maritime border control is also alleged to have been involved in a second incident in July. In this case, the Australian officials are believed to have directed the boat crew to take its passengers back to Indonesia. The asylum seekers say they were taken off their boat and but them onto a new one.

The rights group is calling for further investigations to take place, while also urging Canberra to take the problem of refugees seriously.

"All people seeking asylum deserve to have their claims fairly dealt with. And instead of continuing with turnbacks Australia must engage in effective dialogue to improve regional protections for vulnerable populations in the Asia-Pacific region, and expand safe and legal routes for people to reach safety,” Shea mentioned.

This is the latest scandal to engulf Australia regarding its treatment of migrants.

In August, doctor David Isaacs told RT he risked going to prison for lifting the lid on how Australia was treating illegal immigrants at a camp on the Pacific Island of Nauru.

He was shocked at how the children were being treated and felt that he had no option but to let the public know about Australia’s dirty little secret.

“I saw a child as young as six who tried to hang herself,” he said, adding that he saw a number of children who had developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“The parents are very troubled,” Isaacs said. “When the parents are troubled, the children also become troubled, so either they become depressed, or they become angry.”

Meanwhile a few days later, a former guard at the same refugee camp alleged that he had openly heard fellow workers “brag” about waterboarding inmates.

In March, the then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott rejected a UN report saying the country has been violating children asylum seekers’ rights in offshore processing centers.

The report accused Australia of detaining children, saying this breaches Australia's international obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which is designed to prevent inhumane and degrading treatment.