Deterring asylum seeking in Australia: bribing Indonesian smugglers to return asylum seekers to Indonesia

Antje Missbach, Wayne Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The decline in the smuggling of people from Indonesia to Australia since late 2013 is primarily attributable to unilateral deterrence policies under Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, rather than to bilateral or multilateral cooperation in enforcing anti-people smuggling laws in the region. Yet, more than 30 asylum-seeker boats have departed from Indonesia since that time. Australia’s handling of one boat in particular stands out, not least because of the intense media attention it attracted. In May 2015, Australian authorities intercepted an Indonesian boat carrying 65 asylum seekers and allegedly paid the six smugglers on board to return the asylum seekers to Indonesia. In this article, we reconstruct what happened at sea, and put forward a number of arguments that categorize this “turnback” as a form of state-sanctioned people smuggling. Our article also raises a number of further questions about looming risks if state-sanctioned people smuggling was to be employed more widely by states in other areas of the world where people cross the sea to seek asylum. Not only would the practice severely undermine international collaborations that have developed to combat people smuggling, but it would also create additional safety risks for those who are turned back.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-82
Number of pages6
JournalCourt of Conscience
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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