Captain Yohanis Humiang (left) looks on as the head of the Nusa Tenggara people smuggling division Timur Ibrahim, Rote police chief Hidayat and East Nusa Tenggara Timur police chief General Endang Sunjaya count money in June. Photo taken by an asylum-seeker on the original two-deck boat, prior to interception by n Navy and Border Force ship in May. Photo: Amnesty International
$US32,000 crew members told Amnesty International was paid to them by n officials who intercepted and boarded a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers. Photo: Amnesty International
‘Kanak’, one of two boats which asylum seekers where transferred onto by n Border Force after being intercepted and turned back. Photo: Amnesty International
‘Jasmine’, one of two boats which asylum seekers claim they were transferred onto by n Border Force after being intercepted. Photo: Amnesty International
Asylum seekers in immigration detention in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara in August, after their boat was intercepted and turned back by n officials. Photo: Amnesty International
Sources have confirmed that the HMAS Wollongong was the navy ship that intercepted the asylum seekers. Photo: Navy
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Jakarta: n officials who paid people smugglers to return a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia committed a transnational crime and put dozens of lives at risk, according to a damning report that calls for a Royal Commission into the scandal.
In its report Amnesty International also calls for an investigation into a second case of possible payments to a crew intercepted by the n Navy and Border Force on July 25.
“When it comes to its treatment of those seeking asylum, is becoming a lawless state,” Amnesty International refugee researcher Anna Shea says.
In June Fairfax Media revealed an Indonesian police investigation found people smugglers had been paid more than $US30,000 by n officials to return a boat that was headed for New Zealand.
The revelations – never denied by former prime minister Tony Abbott – prompted a Senate inquiry, due to report next year, and caused a diplomatic incident with Indonesia.
Ms Shea says all the available evidence points to n officials committing a transnational crime by, in effect, directing a people smuggling operation in May this year, paying a boat crew and then instructing them exactly where to land in Indonesia.
The report By Hook or by Crook – ‘s Abuse of Asylum Seekers at Sea says n officials may have also breached the people smuggling provisions in the n criminal code, although some public officials may have immunity from liability.
It accuses n officials of keeping asylum seekers – including a pregnant woman, two children and an infant – in cells for about a week on a Border Force ship after being told they could bathe there. It says some were denied medical care or access to their own medication.
The report also contradicts claims made by the Operation Sovereign Border taskforce that the May 2015 operation was intended to save lives following a distress call.
“The crew and asylum seekers – interviewed separately – consistently told Amnesty International that the boat was not in distress at the time of either interception on 17 or 22 May.”
Instead, Amnesty International says Border Force and Navy officials put dozens of lives at risk by forcing asylum seekers onto poorly equipped vessels, one of which ran out of fuel necessitating a dangerous mid-sea transfer.
“In the circumstances described by the crew and asylum seekers, it. is remarkable that no lives were lost and no one was injured.”
Amnesty International also calls for an investigation into a second possible cash payment on July 25, when intercepted a boat with 25 asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan.
Passengers told the human rights organisation that when they were put on a new boat on August 1, crew had two new bags they had not seen before.
“When the passengers became suspicious and threatened to open the bags the ns repeatedly told them not to.”
However an Indonesian police officer told Fairfax Media that crew members and asylum seekers on the second boat had made no mention of bribes or payments made by n officials.
“When we intercepted the boat, we didn’t find any money, just a GPS system given by n officials,” Ibrahim, the people smuggler unit chief for East Nusa Tenggara, told Fairfax Media.
“Where would the crew hide the money? We intercepted them while they were still on the water.”
Amnesty International has taken out full page advertisements in Thursday’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to launch a Royal Commission into the people smuggler payments.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denied all of the claims being made in the Amnesty report. In response to detailed written questions from Fairfax Media, the spokeswoman said that the Operation Sovereign Borders regime was “conducted consistent with n domestic law and ‘s obligations under international law”.
“People on intercepted vessels are held lawfully in secure, safe, humane, and appropriate conditions by the personnel of the n Border Force and the n Defence Force,” she said.
“To suggest otherwise, as Amnesty has done, is to cast a slur on the men and women of the ABF and ADF.
“The government will always act in the best interests of the n people.”
She did not address direct questions about whether payments had been made by n officials.
In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media this month, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the evidence of the people smuggling payments was “very obvious”.
“But it seems there is very minimum information that the n authorities could share with Indonesia,” she says. “We expressed our concern obviously at that time. I think the message has been conveyed clearly to .”
With Amilia Rosa
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