Two dozen asylum seekers stranded in Indonesia say Australian authorities blew up the boat that carried them toward Australia’s Christmas Island and then sent them back in a lifeboat, Indonesian officials said on Tuesday.
The Indonesia Search and Rescue Agency evacuated 26 migrants after the local navy found the lifeboat stranded on Monday near Agropeni beach in Kebumen District of Central Java.
Australia’s new policy of using lifeboats to send back asylum seekers found in unseaworthy vessels has angered Indonesia, which sees it as a breach of sovereignty.
The migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Iran are being held at the local immigration office in the nearby district of Cilacap, the office’s investigation and enforcement chief Imam Prawira said.
According to a Pakistani migrant, Prawira said they were rejected near the maritime border by Australia, which transferred them into the lifeboat.
Kebumen police Captain Warsidi said two of three Indonesian crew members were being questioned while another escaped.
The crew claimed to have received just 10 million rupiah (US$860) out of 30 million promised by the migrants once they arrived in Australia, Warsidi said.
According to Kebumen police, the migrants left for the Australian territory of Christmas Island from West Java on Wednesday last week.
Three days later, they arrived near the border, but were intercepted by an Australian warship which blew up their wooden boat.
Australia bought unsinkable lifeboats as part of its policy to deter such boat journeys, but it has refused to confirm the boats’ use in sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia.
The orange lifeboat was equipped with television, navigation equipment, batteries and foods, police said.
It was the second lifeboat with turned-back asylum seekers stranded on Java’s southern coast this month.
Australian Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison’s office on Tuesday refused to comment on the latest lifeboat arrival.
A statement cited a policy of keeping border protection activities secret.
Indonesia’s vast chain of islands is a popular transit point for people fleeing war-torn countries to reach Australia.
However, Australia’s new government has instituted new policies and refuses to resettle even genuine refugees who arrive by boat, instead sending them to Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the South Pacific.