Local media reported on Wednesday that Australian Custom officers allegedly paid thousands of dollars to smugglers, in order to turn a boat full of asylum seekers back to Indonesia.
The boat was carrying 65 people, nationals of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, seeking asylum in New Zealand.
As reported by the news media, the Australian custom officers boarded the vessel in the end of May.
Image: News Limited
The asylum seekers described that they had been kept in “jail-like” conditions on a navy ship, before the vessel to be turned around and sent back to the Indonesian island of Rote.
According to the Police department Chief in the Rote Island, all six crew members on board received $US 5,000 each by Australian custom officials.
When the crew was apprehended for their people-smuggling operation, the Police Chief said, he saw the money himself, wrapped in six black plastic bags.
Peter Dutton, the Australian Immigration Minister has denied the claims and refused to comment or answer questions on this case.
An official document was delivered to the New Zealand government, describing in details the allegations of the asylum seekers. The letter was signed by all 65 people on board the boat. According to the information included in the letter, officials had paid at least $7000 to each of the six crew members.
The Bangladesh citizen Nazmul Hassan, who was one of the asylum seekers on board, said for a local radio station, that the boat was twice encountered by New Zealand officials. According to him, those on board were told that Australia wanted to donate for them to go back to Indonesia.
The crew agreed to turn the boat around after its interception by the Australian Authorities. Later, it was reported that the boat hit rocks in the West Rote district of Indonesia and the asylum seekers had to swim to reach the shore.
In an interview for a local media, Peter Hughes, Former Immigration Department Executive said that if the payment was true, it would have been unprecedented.
“I have never heard of that happening before,” he said.