The crew of an asylum seeker boat who were allegedly paid by an Australian official to return to Indonesia were jailed on people smuggling charges. The six crew members were each sentenced to over five years in prison and ordered to pay fines between $50,000 and $70,000. The sentencing followed an Indonesian police investigation which found that the Australian Navy had paid the crew $US32,000 to return the asylum seekers to Indonesia. An Australian Senate inquiry, due to report in March, will assess the legality of payments made to the crew members.
An independent report found that Save the Children workers sacked on Nauru in 2014 are entitled to compensation from the Australian government. The dismissals were found to be politically motivated and based on ‘no evidence or reliable information’. Save the Children CEO Paul Ronalds welcomed the report and urged the Australian government to end the practice of mandatory detention of children.
Twenty-eight refugees living in Nauru wrote to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, requesting permanent resettlement. Despite a deal negotiated between Australia and New Zealand in 2013, in which New Zealand agreed to accept 150 refugees per year from Australia’s offshore detention facilities, no resettlements have been granted. New Zealand’s immigration minister, Michael Woodhouse, responded to the letter, stating that ‘it is for Australia to take up the offer to utilise the… 150 places’. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull argued that resettlement in New Zealand could ‘result in creating incentives for people smugglers to get back into business’.
In Papua New Guinea, Benham Satah, the key witness in Reza Barati’s murder trial, requested to be transferred to a different compound at the Manus Island detention centre, where he has been detained for over two years. Satah, who was offered protection before giving evidence against two local men accused of killing Barati, said he is being targeted by guards and fears for his life at the centre. A public petition requesting that Satah “be brought immediately to Australia and settled in the community” drew more than 16,000 signatures.
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) called for greater government investment in organisations supporting asylum seekers. RCOA toured Australia gathering information about the challenges facing these support centres, and will make recommendations to the Australian Government in February.