12 Jun 2015

No denial of paying people smugglers - Abbott

6:58 pm on 12 June 2015

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to deny reports his officials have paid asylum boat crews to turn back to Indonesia, saying his government will stop the boats "by hook or by crook".

Australian border officials reportedly handed over thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a vessel carrying 65 asylum seekers, which crashed into a reef near the remote Rote Island.

Refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are seeking asylum in New Zealand.

The boat carrying 65 people shipwrecked and the passengers detained in Indonesia. Photo: Supplied

The migrants, from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka came ashore on Rote island in eastern Indonesia after they were intercepted on their way to New Zealand by the Australian navy.

The captain and five boat crew are all being detained on Rote on people-smuggling charges.

An Indonesian police chief was quoted as saying that the six crew members said they had each been given US$5000 by Australian officials to turn back.

Indonesia's foreign ministry later told the ABC that Indonesian police were investigating the claims.

A French news agency said a New Zealand police officer has already interviewed some of the refugees, and was going on to interview the people-traffickers, the boat captain and his crew.

"This is endangering life. They were in the middle of the sea, but were pushed back," foreign ministry spokesman Arramanatha Nasir said.

Mr Abbott said today that "creative strategies" have been developed to stop the boats.

"What we do is stop the boats by hook or by crook, because that's what we've got to do and that's what we've successfully done," Mr Abbott told Macquarie Radio.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"By hook or by crook, we are going to stop the trade.

"I am proud of the work our border protection agencies have done, I really am proud of the work that they've done and they've been incredibly creative in coming up with a whole range of strategies to break this evil trade.

"We will do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect our country from people smuggling and from the effect of this evil and damaging trade."

Mr Abbott would not go into further details about the allegation, saying the Government does not comment on operational matters, and the work of security agencies should not be discussed publicly.

He also side-stepped questions about whether it was acceptable to pay people smugglers, and whether there should be an investigation.

A Sri Lankan asylum seeker called Kajuran has told ABC News a similar story, and earlier this week a Bangladeshi named Nazmul Hassan told Radio New Zealand that $7,200 was paid to the captain and crew for each passenger.

Mr Hassan said Indonesian authorities later confiscated much of that money.

The Prime Minister's comments follow denials this week from senior Government ministers.

When asked whether Australian authorities ever paid people to return asylum seekers, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said: "No".

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton gave the same response when asked whether officials had recently paid an asylum crew to stay away from Australia.


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