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Issue #1690      June 24, 2015


From budgie smuggler to people smuggler

The Indonesian government has asked the Australian government to respond to claims that it paid the crew of a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers $5,000 each to return to Indonesia. Shocked Indonesian authorities suggested the terms “bribery” and “people smuggling” could be used to describe Australia’s actions. Tensions rose as Australia refused to respond to their questions, instead citing the now all-to-familiar “operational matters” and “national security” reasons.

The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was in denial when first asked and then later clammed up citing “on water matters”.

Indonesian police have provided Fairfax media with photos of thousands of dollars as evidence of the turn-back. “It is now up to you and other organisations to demand an answer from the Australian government,” General Endang Sunjaya of Nus Tengara Timur province told Fairfax media.

The crew and asylum seekers have been separately interrogated by Indonesian police. “They all said the same thing: they were paid by Australian officials to return to Indonesia,” General Endang said.

Australian officials reportedly put them on two wooden boats, after spending two days on HMAS Wollongong. Each boat was given a 20-litre drum and left to sink or drown near Ashmore Reef, not in the Java Sea as promised.

As one Indonesian official described it, the boats were sent on a “suicide mission”. The asylum seekers were very lucky to be rescued by villagers when their boat hit a reef off Landu Island at low tide.

Relations with Australia were already strained with Australia’s policy of turning boats back. Australia has international obligations to accept asylum seekers on its shores, to process them as quickly as possible, and then release them into the community unless there is a genuine security risk or they are not genuine refugees.

The allegations are yet to be officially confirmed by Indonesian police and, as the payments were allegedly made in Australian waters, the legal aspect may come under Australian jurisdiction. If that is the case, the Australian government will do all it can to bury the matter.

Abbott boasts that he has “stopped the boats”. The boats may have stopped landing in Australia but at what price? They are still coming, overloaded with desperate people fleeing wars and persecution. The excuse for the government’s harsh measures is that it is saving lives by sending boats back. In fact it is sending people back to die at sea.

In this incident the asylum seekers were lucky to survive, but how many boats have been turned back? How many people have lost their lives as a result of this illegal, racist and inhumane policy? All so a reactionary Prime Minister can continue to boast, for political purposes, that he has “stopped the boats”.

In a report released in March 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, found that various aspects of Australia’s asylum seeker policies violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In particular, he found that recent amendments to the Maritime Powers Act, which give the government unprecedented powers to detain and return asylum seekers intercepted at sea, violate the Convention.

Australia is yet again treating international law with contempt, showing total disregard for human life and, as Abbott says, “will do what ever it takes”, “by hook or by crook” to be able to boast to the electorate that he has stopped the boats.

Increasingly, Australians are becoming aware of the inhumanity and cruelty behind those slogans. Stop Abbott, not the boats and stop the wars that drive people from their lands.

Next article – UN rights expert denounces secret talks on trade treaties

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