ROTE ISLAND, Indonesia – The captain of an asylum-seeker boat allegedly intercepted by the Australian navy has told a court how he negotiated a hefty payment to take the migrants back to Indonesia to avoid going home “empty-handed”.
Indonesian captain Yohanis Humiang, 35, is standing trial on charges of people-smuggling after Australian officials allegedly stopped his boat in May and paid him and his crew $32,000 to return to Indonesia.
Five crew members are also being tried in a separate trial on Rote Island, eastern Indonesia. All six face a minimum of five years in jail and maximum of 15 if found guilty. (READ: Indonesia to probe claims Australia paid asylum seekers to turn back)
Claims that Australia paid to turn the asylum seekers back to Indonesia renewed tensions over the issue of migrant boats, which has long been a flashpoint between the neighbors.
Humiang told the court how his boat, carrying 65 mostly Sri Lankan migrants, was intercepted as it tried to head to New Zealand, and he was taken aboard an Australian navy ship.
“I was interrogated,” Humiang told the court on Tuesday, adding that he negotiated for 30 minutes with officials before the payment was agreed.
“The money was given to us to take the migrants back to Indonesia, and to be honest, I need the money – that’s the very reason I took this job.”
“I can’t go home empty-handed,” he added.
Humiang said he and one senior crew member got $6,000 each, while $20,000 was divided between the four other crew members.
The captain added that he took the money and agreed to take the migrants back to Indonesia, as he had not yet been paid by the people-smuggler who had arranged for him to take the group to New Zealand.
In June, after his arrest, Humiang had told how the crew and migrants were not allowed to make the return journey in their own boat, which was seized by the Australians, but were put into two “unseaworthy” wooden vessels.
The crew and migrants arrived on a small island near Rote after being turned back.
Australia’s hardline policy of turning back boats has largely stemmed the flow of vessels, but some still try to make the journey. Last week 16 asylum seekers arrived in Indonesia after being turned back by the Australian navy, Indonesian police said. – Rappler.com
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