People smuggling by a different name: Australia's ‘turnbacks’ of asylum seekers to Indonesia

Antje Missbach, Wayne Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


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. When seeking to prevent asylum seekers from coming to Australia to enjoy the right to asylum there, the Australian government has tested a number of deterrent mechanisms that sometimes border on illegality and even state crime. In May 2015, for example, Australian authorities intercepted an Indonesian boat carrying 65 asylum seekers and allegedly paid the six smugglers to return their passengers to Indonesia. In this article, we reconstruct what happened at sea, and put forward a number of arguments that categorise this ‘turnback’ as explicitly-commissioned people smuggling against Indonesia. Our article also points to further implications about looming risks if the policy 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 prevent and combat people smuggling, but it would also create additional safety risks for those who are turned back.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-206
Number of pages22
JournalAustralian Journal of International Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • asylum seekers
  • state crime
  • people smuggling
  • border protection
  • Indo-Pacific region

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