[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said Wednesday that Australia’s maritime border control agents have engaged in significant criminal activity, bribery and abusive treatment of women, men and children who are seeking asylum. A new report titled By Hook or By Crook [text] shows that in May 2015 Australian officials compensated six crew members who had been taking 65 people seeking asylum to New Zealand USD $32,000 and directed them, with the help of maps, to take the people to Indonesia instead. Although the Australian government has continued to deny the allegations of human endangerment and mistreatment, all 65 passengers aboard the ship concluded that “a transnational crime” had been committed. AI claims that there is not only witness testimony but also video footage showing how Australian officials would purposefully transfer people seeking asylum into boats with insufficient fuel in an effort to endanger them. “People-smuggling is a crime usually associated with private individuals, not governments—but here we have strong evidence that Australian officials are not just involved, but directing operations,” said Anna Shea, Refugee Researcher at AI. AI has also maintained that Australia’s boat turnback policy is a breach of the country’s non-refoulment obligations under the Refugees Convention [backgrounder], which requires Australia not to return a refugee to a place where their life or liberty could be put in a position of danger.
Australia has faced sharp criticism on an international level for its policies regarding refugees, asylum and undocumented immigrants. In January the High Court of Australia [official website] ruled that [JURIST report] the off-shore detention of more than 150 ethnic Tamil refugees aboard an Australian Customs and Border Protection Service [official website] vessel was lawful under the Maritime Powers Act of 2013. In February 2014 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] called for changes to the way Australia deals with refugees [JURIST report] seeking asylum, especially in regards to the lengthy detention of asylum-seekers. That same month the Australian Human Rights Commission [official website] launched an official government inquiry [JURIST report] into the ways in which immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of child detainees.