Thirteen Iraqis were arrested and turned back in the middle of the ocean as they tried to enter Australia by small boat from Indonesia.
Canberra made the decision to order them back to where they started on Sunday, according to a local police chief in the Southeast Asian nation’s southernmost province.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reports that the attempted entry took place in northwest Australian waters at Ashmore Reef, 600 kilometers north of Broome. The arrest and repatriation was carried out by Australian Border Force officers patrolling the area.
The original ship was seized, the crew told Indonesian police, and the passengers and crew were sent back to Indonesia on another boat, the SMH report exposes.
They were taken to a local police station after arriving on Rote Island on Wednesday.
“The information is that [the wooden boat] was detained by Australian Customs,” said Rote Ndao Police Chief I Nyoman Putra Sandita.
According to one of the Iraqis on board, the group left Iraq on November 11 and traveled to Jakarta and Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, before heading to Rote Ndao, from where they left for Australia.
Their return was in line with Australian policy never to allow migrants to land to seek asylum.
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Police said there were six women and three children on the boat, the youngest being a one-year-old boy.
Australian Border Force has been contacted for comment by the SMHbut the government agency does not confirm maritime patrol operations until weeks later, in monthly reports posted online.
According to this information, no boat has been intercepted from Indonesia as part of Operation Sovereign Borders since January 2020.
The only boats that have since been intercepted while attempting to disembark are from Sri Lanka.
The majority of the boats were rounded up by the Sri Lankan navy, but 183 people made it to Australian waters on six boats between May and August, and were returned by air and sea to Colombo.
Operation Sovereign Borders, originally launched by former Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013, sees smuggler boats intercepted at sea and migrants returned to their port of departure – usually in Indonesia – or taken to centers offshore processing.
Migrants deemed to be legitimate asylum seekers have been resettled in third countries at Australia’s expense.