In his continued bid to combine the buffoonish incompetence of George W. Bush with the crass cruelty of Chris Christie to become the worst elected leader in the world, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reached a new height: paying human traffickers to avoid receiving migrant refugees into Australia. That stunning allegation comes from both the UN High Commission on Refugees and the government of Indonesia, according to the BBC, and Abbott did not deny the charge:
Migrants on a boat headed for Australia have told the UN that the crew was paid by the Australian navy to turn back.
James Lynch, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), told the BBC that passengers saw smugglers being paid after the boat was intercepted.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday admitted using “creative” strategies to stop migrant boats but refused to go into detail.
The country’s immigration and foreign ministers denied payments were made.
“The boat that was rescued by the Indonesian navy on 31 May – we have interviewed the 65 passengers and they have said that the crew received a payment,” said Mr Lynch.
He said the passengers – 54 from Sri Lanka, 10 from Bangladesh, and one from Myanmar – were transferred to a customs boat for four days “before being put on two boats and sent back to Indonesia”.
The Indonesian navy said it intercepted the boats on their return and arrested the crew, who said they had each been paid A$5,000 ($3,900; £2,500) to turn back.
Local police chief Hidayat told AFP news agency: “I saw the money with my own eyes.”
Speaking to Radio 3AW on Friday morning, Mr Abbott refused to deny that a payment had been made, saying simply that “creative strategies” had been developed to stop the migrant boats.
To recap, this appalling story means Australia used government funds to pay human traffickers nearly US$4000 each — not to mention bringing the migrants onto customs boats for several days before handing the people back over to the human smugglers.
Added: More, from The New York Times:
Richard Marles, the opposition Labor Party’s spokesman for immigration, said Saturday that Mr. Abbott’s refusal to clearly deny having paid human traffickers “leaves one with the only possible assumption that that may well have been exactly what happened.”
“Paying cash bribes to boat crews amounts to people trafficking,” Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens senator, said Saturday in a statement. “The government does not have a mandate to break the law or a blank check to allow handing over wads of cash in the middle of the ocean.” She said Parliament had a responsibility to find out what had happened.