Australia committed crime in paying smugglers for boat turnbacks, Amnesty claims

Amnesty International has slammed Australia’s secretive Operation Sovereign Borders as a “lawless venture” that should be fully exposed through a royal commission.


A new Amnesty report, entitled By Hook or By Crook, was released on Thursday, a day after former prime minister Tony Abbott – who used the expression to describe the controversial strategy – encouraged Europe to adopt it.

The report claims from interviews with asylum seekers, a boat crew and Indonesian police that in May, Australian officials paid $US32,000 to six crew who were taking 65 asylum seekers to New Zealand, to get them to return to Indonesia instead.

Amnesty also questions whether Australian officials paid money to the crew of another boat turned back in July.

Author Anna Shea says the actions of the Australian Navy and Border Force amount to transnational crime.

In effect, she says, they directed a people-smuggling operation, paying a boat crew and then instructing them on what to do and where to land in Indonesia.

Amnesty wants a royal commission to look into whether criminal activity took place, as well as asylum seekers’ claims of ill treatment at sea.

“Australia appears willing to do absolutely anything to stop people seeking asylum from reaching its shores,” she told AAP.

“The idea that the ends justify the means is extremely concerning.”

In the July 25 incident, Amnesty found Australian officials intercepted a boat and separated the two Indonesian crew and 15 passengers on a Border Force ship for a week.

The passengers told Amnesty that when they were put on to a different boat and sent back to Indonesia’s Rote Island on August 1, the boat’s crew acted differently and had two new bags.

When they threatened to open the bags, the Australians repeatedly told them not to.

Ms Shea says all available evidence indicates that turnbacks are not saving lives, but endangering them.

“What’s equally concerning, central to the Australian approach to border control is secrecy, which means that abusive and dangerous practices appear to be happening without any kind of legal or democratic scrutiny,” she said.

“When governments say that `on water matters’ are exempt from public scrutiny, in effect they are saying that they can do anything they like.

“This is a very dangerous and profoundly undemocratic idea, and must not be replicated in Europe or elsewhere.”