Abbott pressured over allegations Australia paid smugglers to turn back

Allegations from an Indonesian police chief suggest that people traffickers had been paid by the Australian government to turn back to their port of departure

Australia’s government is under pressure to say whether it paid thousands of dollars to people smugglers to return asylum seekers to Indonesia, with political opponents warning it may have risked worsening migrant trafficking problems in Southeast Asia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose government has taken atough stance against people trafficking networks, was quizzed Friday about allegations from Indonesian police that an Australian border official last month paid 30,000 U.S. dollars to the crew of an intercepted asylum boat to turn back to Indonesia.

Jakarta has launched an investigation into the still-unproven accusations by an Indonesian police chief, first made to Australian newspapers, that the six crew were each paid US$5,000 to turn around a boat carrying 65 passengers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, and which later foundered on a reef near southeastern Rote Island.

Under repeated questioning, Abbott said only that Australian Navy sailors and paramilitary border guards had been “incredibly creative” about trying to stop asylum seekers reaching Australia, in a blockade heavily criticized by the United Nations and mostly cloaked in operational secrecy.

“What we do is stop the boats by hook or by crook, because that’s what we’ve got to do and that’s what we’ve successfully done,” Abbott told an Australian radio network, while declining to provide clarity on security grounds.

Abbott’s government has overseen one of the toughest anti-asylum border operations in the world, with a military-led blockade of approaching boats. The Prime Minister has also hailed the approach—popular with many voters—as a model for nations in Europe and Australia’s region grappling with unfettered migrant problems.

Though relatively small in number, arriving asylum boats have unsettled Australian voters at successive elections, triggering competition among rival lawmakers to be as tough as possible.

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