Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Ben Rushton
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Tony Abbott’s government capitulated to Indonesia on Friday night, ordering a Customs boat with up to 63 refugees on board to go to Christmas Island.
An asylum seeker in Indonesia contacted Fairfax Media early on Saturday to say the boat had reached the Australian territory on Saturday morning after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison failed to convince Indonesia to accept their return.
“I have friends on the boat,” the asylum seeker said in a text message, “and yesterday he says, ‘My boat [has] reached.'”
The source said the people on board were from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and had been organised by people smugglers called Muzahir and Sher Ali.
The arrival is a loss of face for the Coalition, which vowed before the election that Australian authorities would not act as a taxi service for refugees. It may also encourage other people smuggling syndicates to try their hand.
The refugee source said people smugglers in West Java were talking about sending another boat within three days, or up to a week. About 30 people had already paid money to a trusted third party for the voyage, he said.
The stand-off led the Indonesian minister, Djoko Suyanto, to assert powerfully that the country would never take refugees from Australia under similar circumstances — a declaration that scuttles any chance that Mr Abbott’s three-year old promise of turning back boats could become a reality under this Indonesian government.
“The Indonesian government never agreed to such wishes or policies by Australia,” Indonesian co-ordinating minister for security Djoko Suyanto told the ABC on Friday.
“We have expressed this point of view since the Rudd government and there are no changes in our policy in relation to asylum seekers who want to go to Australia in the current Tony Abbott government. Australia already has its own detention centres in Nauru and PNG so they should send these asylum seekers … [there] not to Indonesia.”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also said there was no reason to take back refugees from an Australian ship when their lives where not in danger.
The Immigration Minister confirmed the transfer in a media release saying he had requested the rescued passengers be moved while the Indonesian government was still considering Australia’s request that they be taken to Indonesia.
Mr Morrison said he acted in the best interests of the safety of the passengers and crew from the Australian vessels, when he asked that they be transferred to Christmas Island for rapid onward transfer to Manus Island or Nauru.