Australia Rejects Claims That Navy Mistreated Asylum Seekers

Australia, Indonesia, asylum seekers, Tony Abbott

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, left, talks to her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa after their meeting as they leave Natalegawa’s office in Jakarta on Dec. 5, 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Beawiharta)

SYDNEY — Australia on Wednesday rejected claims by a group of asylum seekers that they were beaten and suffered burns while being returned to Indonesia by the Australian navy under a policy that has strained ties between the countries.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday aired video of asylum seekers getting treatment for burns they said were caused by navy personnel forcing them to hold onto hot pipes coming out of their boat’s engine while it was being towed back to Indonesian waters.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison lashed out at the media for reporting what he called “unsubstantiated allegations” and said that he would conduct no investigation into the incident as he accepted the word of navy personnel.

“The Australian government is not going to put up with people sledging [verbally abusing] the Australian navy,” he told reporters in Sydney. “I’ve been given assurances about their conduct and I believe those assurances because I believe in those individuals.”

Indonesian police confirmed that a group of asylum seekers had required treatment for severe burns on their hands after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on Jan. 6.

“I received a report from police in Kupang that they said they were burned because they were forced to hold on to the boat engine,” said Agus Barnas, spokesman for the coordinating ministry of legal, political and security affairs.

“They said they were forced by the Australians. We are trying to find out more.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was asked at a news conference on a visit to Washington whether Australia would be willing to accept an Indonesia invitation to send officials to review the evidence.

“I cannot imagine for a moment that the professional people that we have in our forces would have behaved in that fashion,” she said. “But of course if there is any cooperation that we can extend to ensure that these allegations are scotched, then we would be prepared to do it.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government came to power last September partly because of its tough position on asylum seekers. It maintains offshore detention centers in the impoverished nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru that hold thousands of asylum seekers.

The number of refugees reaching Australia pales in comparison with other countries, but it is a polarizing political issue that also stokes tension with Indonesia.

Relations between the countries have been prickly over Abbott’s pledges to break the business of people traffickers operating from Indonesian ports.

Ties hit a 13-year low late last year after media reports that Australia had tapped the phones of top Indonesians, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.

Australia apologized to Indonesia last week for naval breaches of its territory as part of Canberra’s policy of stopping boats carrying would-be asylum seekers.

Abbott, in the Swiss resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum, said on Tuesday that Australia stood by its policies.

“For us, stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty and President Yudhoyono, of all people, ought to understand, does understand, just how seriously countries take their sovereignty,” Abbott told reporters. “So we will continue to do what we are entitled to do to secure our borders.”

Those comments prompted an angry Indonesian response.

“The government of Australia under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott also should understand the meaning of Indonesian sovereignty, which has been violated by the Australian navy,” Djoko Suyanto, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said in a statement.

The incident comes as US-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, in its 700-page annual World Report, issued a blistering assessment of Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

“Successive governments have prioritized domestic politics over Australia’s international legal obligations to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees,” it said.

Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta and David Brunnstrom in Washington.

3 Responses to Australia Rejects Claims That Navy Mistreated Asylum Seekers

  1. Australian Navy officers are very much professional and they have ethical standard. Those Asylum seekers are desperately trying to attention from UN and International. Also they are trying to inflict between Indonesia and Australia Government by they intentionally harm themselves by touching Engine or something hot. So they will be granted refugee and settle in another country as short cut to the Westernized country. In the past, some of Asylum seekers have done same tactic.

    They enter into Australian territory water and Australia has right to send back to Indonesia where boat was left.
    Indonesia Government is intentionally blind eyes those Asylum seekers boat leaving from its shore to Australia. Indonesia Government and its MPs should ask question themselves about Indonesia boat leaving from Indonesia and sending back to Indonesia is justified or not. Even primary school children can answer the question.

    Those Asylum seekers have paid between US $ 7000 – US $ 12000 to human traffickers. Those peoples are not refugees and they are economy migrants. If they were true refugee and then they can seek Asylum in nearest safe heaven in Middle East and some Europe countries. They came all the way from Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, and Afghanistan to Malaysia and Indonesia. They are safe in Malaysia and Indonesia but they do not like Malaysia and Indonesia because they said no free Education, no free Medicare and no Social security allowance even some of former refugees group asking Government to pay for to visit their former country. They said they will be killed by Islamist Militants or Government if they sent back to their country when they apply refugee in Australia.
    Once they got refugee visa and becoming Australian citizen and then there’s no enemy and no danger in their former country and they go back their country straightaway by Australian tax payers’ money. They are not genuine refugees at all. They are robbing aid money from genuine Refugees in Camps from Africa. Former Labor Government had spent over 10 Billions Dollars on Asylum seekers arrived by illegal boats in 5 years and the bill is still going up because there’s 30,000 peoples are still processing and 95% of refugees do not work since refugee status was granted in Australia

    Now the Indonesia FM Marty said Indonesia will increase Navy ships patrolling in Indonesia water. I think Indonesia should do it long time ago and block Asylum seekers boat leaving its territory water. Indonesia Government is not cooperating with Australian Government for illegal Asylum seekers boat leaving its shore. Some said they are helping spreading Islam religion in Australia. Obviously Indonesia Government and Asylum seekers want weak Government in Australia. So Indonesia authority is not cooperating with Tony Abbott Government. Indonesia must know majority of Australian peoples are supporting Tony Abbott policy on illegal Asylum seekers boat.

  2. Those asylum seekers are Muslims. They always make up stories in Myanmar too. Australian government is supposed to understand their make-up stories in Myanmar by so called Rohingya people.

  3. Asylum seekers from Burma are oppertunist
    Fake Asylum seekers with Two Names one Burmese another muslim or chinese
    Many have gained citizen
    While the Genuine Asylum Seekers Suffer
    Watch Out The One with Burmese names
    Using Burmese Name in Burma
    and Muslim or Chinese in The Country They Seek ASYLUM
    Heaven forgives All Sins except Lies

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