A letter from Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop did not address questions on whether Australian authorities paid people smugglers thousands of dollars to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said.
Australian ambassador Paul Grigson passed on the letter to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi but Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said Friday it did not offer new details on the allegations or clarification sought by Jakarta.
“When we did not receive any new information, or any clarification, … we cannot be blamed for taking the view that there was illicit payments made to the smugglers,” Arrmanatha said.
The controversy emerged following media reports, citing some of the 65 migrants on the boat, that Australian officials who intercepted the asylum seekers at sea gave the captain and the crew 5,000 Australian dollars each in exchange for turning the boat back to Indonesia in May.
Arrmanatha said the boat’s captain and five crew in Rote, East Nusa Tenggara province are still being questioned by police and could face people smuggling and human trafficking charges.
“We will continue to investigate people smugglers as we did with previous cases,” he said, claiming that there were already six convictions on people smuggling in Rote.
He said Indonesia was committed tackling people smuggling within its shores but stressed that international cooperation between source, transit and destination countries remains critical to combating the scourge.
Indonesia also urged Australia to do its part.
“If a country says they are committed to addressing this issue, prove it to us,” Arrmanatha said.
“It’s about the need to address this issue in a comprehensive manner and the need for all of us to work together,” he added.
Grigson told journalists that Australia remained committed to cooperating with Indonesia to combat people smuggling “in all its forms.”
“As my prime minister has said repeatedly, I said repeatedly, Australian officials have always acted within the law in this case,” Grigson said.