Australia 'forces' asylum seeker boat back to Indonesia: reports

January 7, 2014 - 9:15AM
Jonathan Swan
National political reporter
SMH

An asylum seeker boat headed for Australia has reportedly been ''driven'' into Indonesian waters by the Australian navy, according to the Indonesian press.

There are conflicting accounts of when the boat or boats were allegedly turned back, with the Jakarta Post referring to an incident on Monday, while other reports say the turn-back happened shortly before Christmas.

It is unclear whether the news outlets are referring to the same incident, and Fairfax Media has yet to receive confirmation from the Abbott government.

The Jakarta Post says a boat carrying 45 ''illegal immigrants from Africa and the Middle East'' was about to enter Australian waters on Monday but was ''immediately forced into Indonesian waters''. The ABC quotes Indonesia's government newswire Antara as reporting that a boat carrying 47 asylum seekers was intercepted by the Australian navy on December 13 and ''forced back'' to Indonesia. Advertisement

Both news reports are attributed to the Indonesian police chief Hidayat.

Fairfax Media has called the office of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for comment.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison needed to clarify today what had happened and the circumstances in which the alleged incident occurred.

''We should not be finding out from the Indonesian media before we find out from our own government,'' Senator Hanson-Young said.

The asylum seekers ''could have drowned'', she said, adding that the towback practice was dangerous and legally questionable.

Mr Morrison's promise to ''turn back boats where it is safe to do so'' was a key plank of the Abbott government's election promise to ''stop the boats''.

But the Indonesian government does not accept the turn-back policy, and Jakarta's irritation with the plan was inflamed further during the recent diplomatic feud over revelations that the Australian government monitored the phones of the Indonesian president and his wife.

Mr Morrison tried to return a boatload of asylum seekers to Indonesia in early November but failed to convince Indonesian officials to accept its return.

The Abbott government capitulated and ordered a Customs boat to take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island. ENDS

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