Australian authorities have confirmed for the first time that they are turning boats carrying asylum-seekers back to Indonesia as part of Canberra’s military-led Operation Sovereign Borders crackdown on people-smuggling.
“What I have confirmed today is… that any vessel that seeks to illegally enter Australian waters will be intercepted and will be removed from our waters and our contiguous zone,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
Reports say that no boats carrying illegal immigrants have arrived in Australia since December 19, 2013.
However, Morrison declined to comment on whether confirmation of the policy, which has angered Indonesia, would increase tensions between the two neighbors.
“All I have simply said today is that Australia will respect our neighbor’s sovereignty, we will respect our sovereignty and that involves any vessel seeking to illegally enter Australia being intercepted and removed from our waters,” he said.
Ties between Jakarta and Canberra were damaged late last year over reports of Australia’s spying on its strategic neighbor. The relations further deteriorated after recent revelations that Australian navy strayed into Indonesian waters during asylum-seeker operations.
The development comes as asylum-seekers turned back to Indonesia by Australia’s navy alleged that they had been mistreated during the military operation.
Morrison said navy personnel carried “personal defensive devices” but dismissed any suggestion of mistreatment.
“They are used in accordance with their training and in accordance with strict guidelines, and any suggestion of mistreatment or misuse of force or misuse of any of these devices that are available to them is completely unsubstantiated, completely without basis and is rejected by the government,” he noted.