Category Archives: Boat Intercepted

Asylum seeker boat reaches Christmas Island

November 20, 2015 | Sky News

An asylum seeker boat has reportedly reached Christmas Island in the early hours of this morning.

There are reports an asylum seeker boat has reached Christmas Island.

SBS are reporting that the boat made it near Flying Fish Cove before being intercepted by the Australian Navy.

Locals told SBS it is the first time a boat has been that close since January 2013.

It is believed the boat arrived within 200 metres of the cove in the early hours of Friday morning.

It is unclear if the boat was taken to the mainland or whether it would be towed back to its origin.

Source: http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2015/11/20/asylum-seeker-boat-reaches-christmas-island.html#sthash.ThUUYTjp.dpuf

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Australian officials paid people smugglers to turn back to Indonesia, says police chief

June 11, 2015 | smh

Asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar appeal to New Zealand.

Asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar appeal to New Zealand.

Australian officials paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers, who were then returned to Indonesia, according to passengers and an Indonesian police chief.

Sixty-five people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand, had their boat intercepted by Australian navy and Customs officials in late May, and were then returned to the island of Rote.

The Indonesian police chief on Rote, Hidayat, said the six crew members said they had been given $US5000 each by Australian officials. The crew were apprehended when they arrived at Rote and are being processed for people-smuggling offences.
Mr Hidayat said the captain, Yohanes, told him they had been given the money by an Australian customs officer called Agus, who spoke fluent Indonesian. The other crew members had corroborated Yohanes’ story.

“I saw the money, the $5000 was in $100 banknotes,” he said. The crew had $30,000 in total, which was wrapped in six black plastic bags, he said.

When asked on Tuesday whether Australian officials had recently paid the crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers to stay away from Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton simply said, “No.”

He refused to answer follow-up questions, citing the government’s policy of not commenting on “on-water matters”.

A letter to the New Zealand government signed by all 65 asylum seekers on board says Australian officials paid the six crew members at least $A7000 each.

“Then they take away our better boat and give two small boats that had just a little dry foods like biscuits and chocolates, and they also give very little fuel, just 200 litres for four to five hour journey,” the letter says.

Nazmul Hassan, a Bangladeshi on board the boat, said he saw the skipper put money in his pocket.

He said the crew initially told Australian officials they couldn’t go back to Indonesia because they could be jailed for people smuggling.

However, after a meeting the captain reportedly said: “We have to go back. Australia want to pay for us.”

“After they finished the meeting, everyone looked happy and they agreed to the proposal,” Mr Hassan said from Inaboi, a hostel in Kupang, Indonesia, where the asylum seekers are being detained.

“We didn’t say anything because they didn’t give us time to talk.”

The asylum seekers swam ashore after their boat hit rocks near Landuti island in the West Rote district of Indonesia, 500 kilometres north-east of the Australian coast.

Mr Hidayat said it was the first time he had heard of Australian payments to people smugglers and that he was surprised the crew members had that amount of cash.

“Boat crews are usually very poor,” he said. “I even sent the money to their villages upon their request.”

Mr Hidayat said he had not confiscated the money. “What for? It is not crime-related,” he said.

“I still wonder who Agus is and what is his motivation to give money to boat crews. Maybe he wanted them to go out of Australian border so he gave them the money.”

An Immigration Department spokesman said: “The Australian government does not comment on or disclose operational details where this would prejudice the outcome of current or future operations.”

Former Immigration Department executive Peter Hughes, who now works at the Australian National University as an expert on refugee policies and international migration, said if the payment was true, the move would be unprecedented.

“I have never heard of that happening before,” Mr Hughes said.

In the letter to the New Zealand government, the asylum seekers said they had set off for New Zealand on May 5, after living in Indonesia for a few months.

“Then we hope you [New Zealand] can give asylum and you can also give a peaceful life for us,” the letter says.

It says the boat was intercepted and searched by Australian customs officers on May 17, who warned: “You don’t try to come in Australia and don’t try to use Australia water area also.”

The letter says the navy and Customs returned six days later and removed the captain for a secret six-hour interview.

It says the asylum seekers were then removed from their boat and kept in jail-like conditions on a navy ship for several days.

“Then they separate our six sailors and donated them by giving at least $A7200 per person. They never ask to us any opinions and they also never accept our petition,” the letter says.

On about May 31, they were then given two smaller boats and sent back to Indonesia.

Mr Hassan said Australian authorities had burnt their original boat because it had sufficient supplies for them to continue their journey to New Zealand.

Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at the Australian National University, said if money had been handed out, it could be interpreted as a form of people smuggling.

However, he questioned the motive of the officials to do it.

Professor Rothwell said it was unlikely to breach any laws under the Migration Act.

“The great significance is how this decision would be seen in regards of our regional neighbours,” he said. “If Australian officials were to pay crews to take those people to Indonesia, I suspect that Indonesia and some other regional neighbours would take a dim view of that conduct from Australia.

“I cannot recall any situation where Australian officials have paid crew.”

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-officials-paid-people-smugglers-to-turn-back-to-indonesia-says-police-chief-20150609-ghk63g.html

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Australia turned back 65 people on boat, including a pregnant woman, police chief says

June 02, 2015 | smh

Australian customs turned back 65 people, including a pregnant woman, after their boat reached Australian waters last Tuesday, according to an Indonesian police chief.

The 65 people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who reportedly claimed to be asylum seekers, are in detention on the Indonesian island of Rote.

Fishermen spotted two boats floating near Landuti island in the West Rote district, 500 kilometres north-east of the Australian coast, on Sunday.

“They looked exhausted,” Rote police chief Hidayat said. “One female passenger is pregnant – we took her immediately to the hospital but she is ok now.”

Mr Hidayat said the migrants told him they had been caught by Australian customs on May 26, who sunk their boat. They were put in two blue and white boats, and sent back into Indonesian waters.

“The Australians provided them with food, drinks and sufficient fuel to reach Indonesian land,” Mr Hidayat said.

He said the passengers included four women and three toddlers. Of the 65, 54 were from Sri Lanka, 10 from Bangladesh and one from Myanmar.

Mr Hidayat denied reports the migrants were headed for New Zealand, saying his network said they wanted to go to Australia.

“Based on information, they started off from Pelabuhan Ratu (in West Java) on May 5 and about two weeks ago I got information from our network that this boat was headed for Australia,” Mr Hidayat said.

“My friends in the Australian Federal Police of course don’t believe it. They said it wanted to go to New Zealand but what would these people do in New Zealand?”

Mr Hidayat said Indonesian police had arrested four of the six crew members. The captain, Yohanes, ran away. “He’s part of the smuggler network in Jakarta, according to the boat crews,” Mr Hidayat said. There was confusion over the whereabouts of the sixth crew member, with some suggesting he was with Australian customs, although it was unclear what that meant.

West Timor Care Foundation chairman Ferdi Tanoni said the migrants were expected to be transferred on Tuesday to Kupang, West Timor’s largest town and the capital of Nusa Tenggara Timur province.

“According to the chief of immigration, the information they received was that these people wanted to go to Australia to ask for asylum,” Mr Tanoni told Fairfax Media.

Although there is an immigration detention centre on Kupang, Mr Tanoni said it was full and the asylum seekers were likely to be accommodated in hotels.

A spokesman for Immigration spokesman Peter Dutton said: “The Australian does not comment on matters associated with on-water operations.”

The Australian navy has repeatedly turned back boats with asylum seekers on board after Prime Minister Tony Abbott came to power in 2013 vowing to “stop the boats”.

The hardline tactic was also initially employed by Malaysia and Indonesia during the recent humanitarian crisis in the Bay of Bengal after boatloads of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were stranded at sea following a Thai crackdown on people trafficking.

The crackdown led to people smugglers abandoning the boats at sea, leading to deaths and starvation.

Malaysia and Indonesia later agreed to assist the migrants and asylum seekers and provide shelter for up to a year but insisted the international community had to help with their resettlement.

With Karuni Rompies

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/australia-turned-back-65-people-on-boat-including-a-pregnant-woman-police-chief-says-20150602-ghei6y

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Asylum seeker boat crashes onto reef after being turned back by Australian ship: Indonesian police

June 02, 2015 | ABC News

Indonesian police say a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers has crashed onto a reef after being turned back by Australian authorities.

Those aboard — 54 Sri Lankans, 10 Bangladeshis, one person from Myanmar and five additional crew — told Indonesian police they were trying to get to New Zealand.

There were four women and three toddlers on board.

They are now being held on Rote Island off West Timor after crashing onto a reef near the remote Landuti Island.

One of the crew members fled from police and has not been located.

Island chief of police senior commissioner Hidayat told the ABC the latest boat was intercepted by an Australian border patrol after setting off from West Java on May 5.

The asylum seekers told police the Australians transferred them onto a more seaworthy wooden boat, given dried fruit, biscuits, fuel and life jackets and escorted back to Indonesian waters.

The asylum seekers were found on Monday by fishermen after the crash.

They will be transferred to Kupang in West Timor on Tuesday.

The Australian Government is yet to respond to the claims.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand recently ended the practice of turning asylum seeker boats away.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-02/asylum-seeker-boat-crashes-onto-reef-after-being-turned-back/6513520

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South-East Asian migrant crisis: Claims up to 200 dead with 14 people, including seven children, dead before boat turned around by navies

May 17, 2015 | ABC News

Rohingyas at Langsa, Aceh, showing their UNHCR refugee cards

PHOTO: Rohingyas including Muhammad Rafique (right) at Langsa, Aceh, show their UNHCR refugee cards.(ABC News: George Roberts)

Migrants and refugees who spent months at sea and found help in Indonesia’s Aceh province claim up to 200 people died on the journey with 14 people, including seven children, dying before the boat was turned around by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies.

The 677 survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought ashore last Thursday.

It has since emerged that Rohingyas and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh were involved in onboard violence that left seven people dead, as food and water supplies ran out.

The migrants claimed many passengers died by drowning either when they fell overboard or when the boat began to take on water.

It is impossible to verify the accuracy of some of the claims due to the language barriers.

There are differing accounts of the onboard violence with accusations being made by ethnic groups who admit to the clashes but blame each other for starting them.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

A 21-year-old Rohingya man, Muhammad Rafique, who already has UN Refugee Status, said the Bengalis were the aggressors.

“Bengali … they said, you are Rohingya, they kill us, they kill us by the knife, by the hammer,” he said.

But Bengali Mohammad Abdur Rahim, 23, said it was the Rohingyas who started it.

“Myanmar people do not give us any food, any water, they are torturing [us] every day,” he said.

Boat turned away from Indonesian, Malaysian waters

The clashes seem to have occurred after the asylum seekers left the waters off Thailand and were then abandoned by the people smugglers and the ship’s captain.

According to the passengers:

  • Three to four boats left Bangladesh and Myanmar up to two months ago
  • Off the coast of Thailand, smugglers transferred them all to a larger boat
  • At least some of the smugglers, and the captain, abandoned ship
  • The passengers, without training or guidance, attempted to reach Malaysia
  • As food and water ran out, violent clashes broke out, leaving seven dead
  • Another seven children reportedly died during the voyage
  • Last week they reached Indonesian waters
  • The Indonesian Navy gave them some supplies but turned them towards Malaysia
  • The Malaysian Navy also gave them supplies and turned them away
  • Some claim 100-200 people drowned in the entire ordeal, but this can not be verified
  • Indonesian fishermen rescued 677 people from the boat on Thursday

From what those on board who can speak English say, three to four boats left from Bangladesh and Myanmar weeks ago.

Off the Thai coast, the smugglers then transferred them all to one bigger boat, and later abandoned them.

Last week they reached Indonesian waters but were rejected by the Indonesian navy.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, conceded the navy had contact with a boat on Tuesday but said the people wanted to get to Malaysia so Indonesia gave them fuel, food and water.

Indonesia’s military spokesman Fuad Basya told the ABC the navy escorted them out of Indonesian waters.

Mr Abdur Rahim said the Indonesian navy took them to Malaysian waters.

Major General Basya told the ABC: “It’s the military’s responsibility to protect the country’s territory”.

He added the navy would keep turning asylum seeker boats away unless directed otherwise.

Once the boat reached Malaysian waters, the passengers met a similar response.

The navy again provided supplies but refused entry to Malaysian waters.

The boat, adrift at sea with no port of destination, began taking on water.

It was Acehnese fishermen who rescued the 677 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshis and brought them to Langsa.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported regional countries taking action to stop people smuggling boats by turning them around and stood by the Australian Government doing the same.

“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”

Rescued asylum seeker receives medical treatment in Aceh

PHOTO: Rescued migrants receive medical treatment upon their arrival in the fishing town of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province.(AFP: Chaideer Mahyuddin)

‘They were on the sea for four months, no food, no bedding’

Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished. A number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips.

Dr Iqbal Foriza, who is co-ordinating medical provision at the makeshift refugee camp, said 25 people were admitted to hospital with their bodies having gone into shock from the ordeal.

“The worst is heavy shock. They were on the sea for four months, no food, no clean food, no bedding, that made the people dehydrated, and caused trauma,” Dr Iqbal said.

On a military camp bed last night, a Bangladeshi woman fanned her three-year-old daughter to keep away mosquitoes, which can be deadly in Indonesia.

The tiny girl was still hooked up to a drip, but Dr Foriza said she was being monitored every three hours.

The ordeal had some people rethinking their plans to get to Malaysia.

“We [want to] go back to Bangladesh immediately. Please help,” Mr Abdur Rahim said.

Muhammad Rafique, a Rohingya, still wanted to get to Australia via Malaysia, with the help of people smugglers.

“First time I will go Malaysia, I will [collect] some money, pay the broker. After I go to Australia to study,” he said.

When the ABC asked him if he knew Australia did not accept people who came by boat he did not understand.

Young rescued Rohingya asylum seeker in the dome tent

PHOTO: Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished and a number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips. (ABC News: George Roberts)

Australia urged to help ease crisis by taking more refugees

Australia’s former ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia John McCarthy said Australia could not just be a witness to the crisis and needed to significantly increase its refugee intake.

“It is a major gesture,” he said.

“We are a country that can afford to take refugees and it has to be bipartisan. If this is not bipartisan we’re not going to get it up.

“The only prospect I can see of Australia playing a constructive role is by saying that we will actually increase our intake of refugees above the 12,000-odd we take currently to a much larger number.”

Malaysia said its foreign minister would meet with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss the crisis.

Foreign minister Anifah Aman was to meet Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu on Monday, a government official said.

That would be followed by separate talks between Mr Anifah and Thai foreign minister Tanasak Patimapragorn later in the week, “most probably on Wednesday”.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-17/migrant-refugee-crisis-south-east-asia-in-numbers/6476160

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Australia confirms 15 boats carrying 429 asylum seekers have been turned back

January 28, 2015 | the guardian

Immigration minister announces Operation Sovereign Border figures as commander says some turnbacks were done without Indonesian cooperation.

An orange disposable lifeboat that washed up on central Java's Karangjambe beach in February. The lifeboat is part of the federal government's boat turnback policy.

An orange disposable lifeboat that washed up on central Java’s Karangjambe beach last February. The lifeboat is part of the federal government’s boat turnback policy. Photograph: El Darmawan/AAP

A total of 15 boats containing 429 asylum seekers have been turned back since the Australian government enacted its Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) policy, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has said.

Some turnbacks to Indonesia were undertaken without the support of local authorities.

“We work with Indonesia as closely as we can, and in some circumstances, we see activities which we work with [the support of Indonesian authorities],” the operation’s commander, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell told reporters on Wednesday. “In other cases we undertake turnback operations without.”

Campbell said the boats were returned only to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

“There are turnbacks, there are also those activities where we work with another country to return those in what you could describe as a take back. And there are some circumstances where we might assist persons in a safety of life at sea circumstance,” Campbell said.

“Only one vessel has arrived in Australia in 2014, and all of those aboard that vessel were transferred to Nauru,” Campbell said. “There were no known deaths as a result of our OSB activities in 2014.”

Dutton said the Coalition had succeeded in its election promise of stopping the boats.

“OSB and our turnback policy has restored the integrity of our borders,” Dutton said.

Then immigration minister Scott Morrison introduced the OSB policy in December 2013.

Dutton’s acknowledgement of the turnbacks is a move away from his predecessor’s policy not to discuss so-called “on the water matters”.

He refuted claims that Australia was sending asylum seekers back home to potential harm, saying Australia was still bound by international law principles.

Dutton said there were still seven children in mainland immigration detention awaiting security clearances before they could be released into the community.

Six adult refugees have been moved from the Manus Island detention centre to the refugee transit centre in nearby Lorengau, where they will be housed temporarily before being moved to another part of Papua New Guinea.

But the PNG prime minister, Peter O’Neill, has told the ABC that he believes the majority of the more than 1,000 asylum seekers in the Manus detention centre are not genuine refugees but economic opportunists who do not have legitimate claims for protection.

“I think many of them are just out there trying to have economic opportunities that Australia and other countries offer to them and that is why they’re seeking refugee status,” O’Neill said.

“I think it will be in the very small numbers [found to be legitimate refugees]. Most of the other people who are in the processing centre: we’re now talking to their governments and we will start repatriating many of them in a very short time.”

He said his government would quickly return people found not to be refugees to their countries of origin.

“We are now trying to work with some of their governments where they come from, like Iraq and Iran … we are trying to determine this as quickly as possible

Iran does not accept involuntary returns of its citizens, and Iraq, historically, has also refused to accept citizens repatriated against their will.

The United Nations has previously raised concerns about PNG’s refugee assessments, arguing there are “shortcomings in the legal framework”, no rights for review, and concerns about the efficiency and fairness of the process.

Under international law – codified in the refugees convention, to which Australia and PNG are parties – a refugee cannot be returned to “territories where his/her life or freedom would be threatened”.

And Australia retains an international legal responsibility for people moved to offshore detention centres.

If PNG were to return a person forcibly who was later found to be a refugee with a genuine fear of persecution to a place where they faced harm, Australia would be in breach of its international obligations, under “chain refoulement”, where refugees are sent to a safe third country which ultimately returns them to persecution.

In September 2014, the incoming United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, said that Australia’s asylum policies were ‘‘leading to a chain of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and possible torture following return to home countries’’.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jan/28/australia-confirms-15-boats-carrying-429-asylum-seekers-have-been-turned-back

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UNHCR says almost 350,000 people took to the seas to seek asylum or migrate this year

December 11, 2014 | ABC News

Italian Navy rescues migrants from a boat on the Mediterranean Sea

Italian Navy rescues migrants from a boat on the Mediterranean Sea

Almost 350,000 people have taken to the seas this year in search of asylum or migration, the United Nations refugee agency says.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said this was a record number of people involved in the risky sea journeys around the world.

Since January this year, 348,000 people had boarded the boats. The bulk of the arrivals had been in Europe, where more than 207,000 people had crossed the Mediterranean.

This was almost three times more than the previous high of about 70,000 in 2011 during the Libyan civil war.

The conflicts in Libya were again a factor this year, as well as the situation in Syria and Iraq, and the war in Ukraine.

Worldwide this year 4,272 people had died in the process of making sea journeys.

Governments must focus on saving lives: UNHCR

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said governments must focus on saving lives, rather than keeping foreigners out.

“This is a mistake, and precisely the wrong reaction for an era in which record numbers of people are fleeing wars,” he said in a statement.

“Security and immigration management are concerns for any country, but policies must be designed in a way that human lives do not end up becoming collateral damage.”

Mr Guterres said the international community’s response had been marred by confusion over how to tackle the problem.

He said all players should address the root causes of why people had fled and should crack down on the criminal networks profiting from desperate would-be migrants.

He also highlighted the importance of having systems to deal with arrivals to distinguish real refugees from migrants.

His comments were made as the UNHCR began a two-day debate on the issue with government officials, aid workers, coastguards, lawyers, academics and other experts.

Less than two months ago Italy announced it would halt a sea rescue mission — Mare Nostrum — that had saved the lives of more than 100,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East since it began more than a year ago.

Italy said it would be replaced by a smaller European Union scheme.

Boat people ‘at risk of beatings, torture, rape’

UNHCR said for the first time, people from “refugee producing countries” had become a major source of those leaving their homelands by boat, accounting for almost half the individuals undertaking sea journeys.

Most were from Syria, where conflict has raged for nearly four years, and Eritrea, where human rights experts said national service was an indefinite conscription that amounted to forced labour.

Besides the Mediterranean, there were at least three other major sea routes being used by migrants and asylum seekers.

In the Horn of Africa, more than 80,000 people, mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia, crossed the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea between the start of January and the end of November en route to Yemen or Saudi Arabia.

In South East Asia, an estimated 54,000 people had taken to the sea so far this year, most of them leaving Bangladesh or Myanmar to head to Thailand or Malaysia.

In the Caribbean, nearly 5,000 people took to boats to flee poverty or in search of asylum, UNHCR said.

Many travel in rickety, unseaworthy boats. Others die or fall victim to human traffickers.

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler on Friday said ethnic tensions in Myanmar and little prospect of integration in Bangladesh were driving more Rohingya — a mostly stateless Muslim people — to the open seas.

He said the vast majority use people smugglers, who typically charge them very little, to make the crossings. Once they arrive they were held for ransom in secluded camps.

“In some cases these people stay there for months under terrible conditions,” Mr Spindler said.

“We know of beatings, torture, rape against these refugees and migrants.”

ABC/Reuters

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-10/350000-took-to-the-seas-to-seek-asylum-or-migrate-says-un/5958750

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