Amnesty International has placed full-page adverts in Australian newspapers alerting citizens to illegal immigration practices.
According to the human rights group, Australian border protection officials have been paying people smugglers so that boats full of immigrants do not land in Australia, writes The Associated Press.
Human rights group concerned by illegal Australian government practices
Amnesty is based in London but has sections around the world, and the Australian office has proven to be particularly active. This latest extraordinary advertising campaign follows on from a report released by the group on Wednesday, detailing the questionable Operation Sovereign Borders. Under the secretive scheme, the Australian government has been using a flotilla that has almost entirely stopped arrivals of asylum seeker boats.
For its part the government of Australia has denied any wrongdoing, rejecting the findings of the report. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is extremely proud of stopping the boats during his time in charge, and gave a speech in London recommending that European countries employ similar tactics to stop migrant arrivals.
Abbott led the country for two years until September 2015, but has come in for hefty criticism from many sections of society. Amnesty says that Australian officials were “complicit in a transnational crime” in May after giving $32,000 to people smugglers in return for them taking a boat of 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia instead of New Zealand.
Evidence mounting of illegal payments to people smugglers
Amnesty claims that the payment could constitute illegally funding human trafficking. “Our Australian officials operate in accordance with domestic Australian law and in accordance with our international obligations,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters.
In June a report from Australia’s Fairfax Media revealed that an Indonesian police investigation showed that smugglers received over $30,000 to take an asylum seeker boat back to Indonesia. Ministers were forced to deny that officials from the Australian Border Force and Defense Ministry had ever paid people smugglers.
However there was no denial that intelligence officials, who sometimes pay informants for information, had made payments. No comment was given on intelligence or security issues as a result of government policy.
Treatment of asylum seekers subject to great scrutiny
Don Rothwell, an Australian National University expert on international law, said that if payments had been made they would have been illegal. However if the payments were made by intelligence officers, any prosecution would have to be approved by the attorney-general.
“The potential for prosecutions under Australian law … would appear rather remote,” Rothwell said.
Amnesty has also claimed that Australian officials endangered the lives of 65 asylum seekers after making them switch from a well-equipped boat to overcrowded, poorly-equipped vessels for their journey to Indonesia. Other accusations include beatings of asylum seekers attempting to make it to Australia.
Australia has been combating a wave of asylum seekers who make their way to Indonesia from Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia to make the perilous sea crossing. Due to Australian government policies the flow of migrants has slowed, but Amnesty accuses officials of employing illegal tactics.
Migration continues to be a subject of great controversy around the world. It seems unlikely that migrants will stop attempting to make the crossing, but international law must be respected even if many Australians do not believe that their country should have to receive asylum seekers. After seeing the way in which such policies halted migrant boats, it would not be a surprise to hear European politicians proposing a similar solution.