‘Asylum-seeker burns issue for Australia’

Brutality claims levelled at the Australian navy by asylum seekers could go unquestioned, with both Australia and Indonesia seemingly reluctant to investigate.


The ABC this week broadcast footage of asylum seekers receiving treatment for burns they claim they suffered when Navy personnel forced them to hold hot engine pipes as they were towed back to Indonesia’s Rote Island.

The images surfaced at the same time as non-government group Human Rights Watch criticised Australian government border policies as cruel and demonising.

The Australian government has rejected the claims of mistreatment, and offered to assist an Indonesian police investigation if it means the allegations can be quickly ruled out.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Washington she didn’t believe Australia’s navy would behave in such a manner.

“But of course if there is any co-operation we can extend to ensure that these allegations are scotched then we’d be prepared to do it,” she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also dismissed the claims, saying he would take the word of the Australian navy personnel over “people who were attempting to break Australian law”.

The police investigation into the claims on Thursday night appeared to be in limbo.

East Nusa Tenggara provincial police say officers are investigating the smugglers, and the boat crew is still at large.

The claims against the Navy were handed to the Indonesian National Police, where spokesman Boy Rafli Amar argued it was really a matter for Australia.

“This case is related to Australia and the one to do the investigation should be Australia because it happened in their territory,” he told AAP.

Boy confirmed his officers were co-ordinating with the Australian police attache and were in communication about whether they wanted to run the investigation.

Ms Bishop reiterated Australia’s support for the probe on Thursday night, telling the ABC that although the government does not believe its armed forces are above being questioned, the claims go against the navy’s reputation for professionalism.

The ground-level co-operation between the two police forces comes despite reports of escalating tensions between the neighbouring nations.

Australia has apologised to Indonesia for naval incursions into its territory but, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Mr Abbott said stopping asylum-seeker vessels was a “matter of sovereignty” that Jakarta ought to understand.

Following Mr Abbott’s comments, Djoko Suyanto, Indonesia’s Co-ordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, said Indonesia would continue to bolster its security forces at sea, to prevent any future breaches.

He said it was also incumbent on Australia to “comprehend the meaning of Indonesia’s sovereignty as well”.

Ms Bishop told the ABC she and her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa had progressed to step “three or four” in the six-point plan put forward by Indonesia to restore bilateral relations following last year’s spy furore and they were arranging a time to meet.

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