Written by Ramesh Irugalbandara
29 Oct, 2015 | 4:25 pm
Amnesty International called on Wednesday (October 29) for a full public inquiry into reports Australian officials paid people smugglers to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers, including Sri Lankans, saying it had evidence to back the claim denied by the Australian government.
Australia has adopted a hardline policy named “Operation Sovereign Borders” vowing to stop asylum seekers reaching its shores, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can, and holding asylum seekers in camps in South Pacific island nations such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
However, this policy came under renewed fire in June when a boat captain and two crew members arrested on suspicion of human trafficking told Indonesian police that Australian officials paid them to take their vessel with 65 asylum seekers on board back to Indonesia.
The Australian government denied reports of paying the smugglers but the incident sparked a parliamentary inquiry and concern from Jakarta and the United Nations.
Amnesty said it had now interviewed all the adults on the boat and the six crew members who told its researchers that Australian officials paid them $32,000 to turn back the vessel with asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The rights group also said officials from two Australian ships – one from the Navy and one the border force – later moved the passengers and crew onto two boats and gave them “little fuel”, a GPS device and a basic map, putting lives at risk.
In its report, Amnesty also called for an investigation into a second case of possible payment to a crew on July 25.
Amnesty refugee researcher Anna Shea said all of the available evidence pointed to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime by directing a people-smuggling operation, paying a boat crew and then instructing them on exactly what to do and where to land in Indonesia.
“It seems as though the Australian government has abused the trust that the public has put into them,” she said.
“It raises really serious concerns that in the course of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, Australian officials might be breaking the law,” she added.
In August, Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said authorities had turned back 20 boats in the previous 18 months and stopped 633 people from arriving in the country.
Australian officials paid off traffickers carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers – Amnesty International
Posted by Newsfirst.lk on Thursday, October 29, 2015
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