Canberra, Australia (BBN)-Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to deny reports that an Australian navy ship paid the crew of a migrant boat to turn back to Indonesia.
But Abbott said Australia had developed “incredibly creative” approaches to stopping asylum boats from reaching Australia, reports BBC.
Australia’s immigration and foreign ministers have denied allegations a payment was made to the crew.
But Indonesia’s foreign ministry has said it is “very concerned”.
Police in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province said earlier this week that they had detained the captain and crew of a boat on people smuggling charges in late May.
The migrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka were reportedly heading to New Zealand and are being held on the remote Rote island about 500km (310 miles) north-east of Australia.
They told police that an Australian navy ship intercepted them at sea, and an immigration official on board paid them each A$5,000($3,900; £2,500) to turn back to Indonesia.
Local police chief Hidayat told AFP news agency: “I saw the money with my own eyes.
This is the first time I’d heard Australian authorities making payments to boat crew.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Radio New Zealand reported similar allegations from passengers.
Speaking to Radio 3AW on Friday morning, Abbott would not deny the allegation that a payment had been made, but said immigration personnel had developed “creative strategies” to stop the migrant boats.
We have stopped the trade and we will do what we have to do to ensure that it stays stopped,” he said.
Under Australia’s controversial policies, no migrants and asylum seekers are allowed to reach its territories by boat.
They are instead intercepted at sea and turned back or taken to detention facilities on the island nation of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Asylum seekers mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran travel to Australia’s Christmas Island by boat from Indonesia
The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey
To stop the influx, the government has adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent
Everyone who arrives is detained. Under a new policy, they are processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia
Tony Abbot’s government has also adopted a policy of tow backs, or turning boats around
Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies and accuse Australia of shirking international obligations.