Libyan coast guards escort a boat along the coastline.

Report: Evidence of public officials’ involvement in criminal activity

Our new report, By Hook or By Crook: Australia’s Abuse of Asylum Seekers at Sea, reveals damning evidence of Australian officials paying boat crews to return people seeking asylum to Indonesia and abusive treatment of the women, men and children on board.


Good governments live up to the values of the public who elected them. They uphold and abide by the laws they help create. They govern transparently, so the public know that those values and laws are not being undermined.

Shortly after being elected, the Australian Government created Operation Sovereign Borders; a vast set of laws, policies and public projects designed to manage our borders.

They claimed that, in order to tackle criminal networks in our region and protect the lives of people seeking asylum in Australia, they needed to operate in secret. We were asked to trust the government to do the right thing.

However, our report reveals evidence that, in May 2015, Australian officials working as part of Operation Sovereign Borders paid USD 32,000 to six crew who had been taking 65 people seeking asylum to New Zealand and told them to take the people to Indonesia instead. The Australians also provided maps showing the crew where to land in Indonesia.

What happened?

Caveat: this interactive timeline is based on the evidence gathered by Amnesty International, including interviews with passengers, crew, Indonesian police, as well as photos and video footage. This is the version of events that has emerged from our research.

Repeat offenders

Our report also documents another case of possible payment by Australian officials to a boat crew to take people to Indonesia in July 2015.

This case, unlike the May 2015 incident, has not received widespread media coverage. Yet, public officials again appear to have directed the crew of a boat to take people to Rote Island in Indonesia.

Passengers on the boat told Amnesty International they were intercepted by the Australian Navy and Border Force on 25 July, and then put onto a new boat on 1 August. By this time the boat crew had two new bags the passengers had not seen before. When the passengers became suspicious and threatened to open the bags the Australians repeatedly told them not to. Given the reported events of May 2015, this raises legitimate suspicions that the bags contained money.

Ending the secrecy

When challenged, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed that Operation Sovereign Border officials at all times “have acted within the law”.

Amnesty International’s research suggests this is not the case.

Amnesty International is calling on new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to initiate a Royal Commission into Operation Sovereign Borders, to investigate and report these allegations of criminal and unlawful acts committed by public officials.

Only a Royal Commission, with the power to assess all the evidence, will uncover all the facts.

People smuggling is a serious crime. Public officials trusted to uphold the law and protect people’s lives should not break the law or put people in danger. Instead, people seeking asylum should be given safe, efficient ways to rebuild their lives and integrate into new communities.