Newspaper article International New York Times

Australia Accused of Smuggler Bribe ; Migrants Tell U.N. Agency That Traffickers Were Paid to Return to Indonesia

Newspaper article International New York Times

Australia Accused of Smuggler Bribe ; Migrants Tell U.N. Agency That Traffickers Were Paid to Return to Indonesia

Article excerpt

Migrants told United Nations workers that Australian officials paid smugglers to turn back their boat and return to Indonesia.

Australian opposition lawmakers have said that they will press Prime Minister Tony Abbott to reveal whether the government paid smugglers to turn a boat full of migrants back to Indonesia after intercepting it at sea.

Migrants from the boat gave that account to workers for a United Nations refugee agency in Indonesia, a United Nations official said Friday. In an Australian radio interview that day, Mr. Abbott, asked about news reports that made the same assertion, neither confirmed nor denied it, but he said the government was determined to "stop the boats by hook or by crook."

Richard Marles, the opposition Labor Party's spokesman for immigration, said Saturday that Mr. Abbott's refusal to clearly deny having paid human traffickers "leaves one with the only possible assumption that that may well have been exactly what happened."

The minority Greens party said it would submit a motion in the Senate, possibly as early as Monday, demanding that the government produce any documents related to the interception of the boat.

"Paying cash bribes to boat crews amounts to people trafficking," Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens senator, said Saturday in a statement. "The government does not have a mandate to break the law or a blank check to allow handing over wads of cash in the middle of the ocean." She said Parliament had a responsibility to find out what had happened.

Mr. Abbott and his immigration minister, Peter Dutton, have repeatedly refused to discuss the specifics of how the Australian authorities deal with asylum seekers at sea. The government has pledged to turn migrant boats around to stop them from entering Australia's territorial waters, and it holds migrants at offshore detention centers to discourage others from attempting the journey to Australia.

Human rights groups and the United Nations have strongly criticized Australia's immigration policies. …

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