Australia sends boat carrying 6 Bangladeshi migrants back to Indonesia

Refugee activists protesting in Brisbane, Australia, on March 2, 2016.
Refugee activists protesting in Brisbane, Australia, on March 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

KUPANG, INDONESIA (AFP) - Six Bangladeshi migrants caught entering Australian waters by the country's border patrol have been sent back to Indonesia on a fishing boat, an Indonesian official said on Thursday (March 10).

The move drew criticism from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, which reiterated its opposition to Australia's controversial policy, and warned such acts could be dangerous at sea.

The six men and two Indonesian crew departed the eastern Indonesian city of Kupang last week bound for Australia.

Local water police chief Teddy John Sahala Marbun said they reached Australian waters after three days at sea but ran into engine trouble, and were rescued by Australia's border patrol as their boat began to sink.

"After several days of sailing, the Australian customs vessel then entered Indonesian waters and handed the men over to an Indonesian fishing boat," he told AFP.

"They gave the fishermen fuel and other logistics, and asked them to return the men to East Nusa Tengarra (in eastern Indonesia)."

The crew have been detained in Kupang and could face people smuggling charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

The boat's captain Isai Rano admitted he was paid 92 million Indonesian rupiah (S$9,660) to take the six Bangladeshis to Australia, Mr Marbun said.

Immigration officials are still questioning the Bangladeshis about how they managed to enter Indonesia, while police search for other possible suspects.

"We are having a problem communicating because they only speak very little English," Mr Marbun said.

Canberra's hardline policy of intercepting and turning back boats trying to reach Australia has largely stemmed the flow of vessels, but some still try to make the journey.

The controversial approach has caused particular tensions with Indonesia, the transit point for many would-be refugees and economic migrants en route to Australia.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said Jakarta's position on the policy remained unchanged.

"We do not support such acts, especially when done on water. It could potentially be dangerous," he told reporters.

It would also not provide a permanent solution to illegal migrant issues, he added.