The UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) representative in Indonesia, Thomas Vargas, has warned people smugglers remain active in the region and said legal action should be taken against governments that make payments to smugglers.
- Any country that pays people smugglers is breaking the law, Mr Vargas says
- South-East Asia remains susceptible to smuggling rings, he says
- The Government has said its officers did not act illegally in the so-called cash-for-boat-turnback scandal
An Australian official is alleged to have given six crew members $US30,000 ($37,000) to turn a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers back to Indonesia in May 2015.
In an interview with the ABC, Mr Vargas said any nation that paid a people smuggler should be brought to justice either at home or in an international court.
"Any country that pays smugglers breaks the law, it is as simple as that," Mr Vargas said.
"To turn around and smuggle people to another country — that is illegal. So whoever does it, an individual or a country or a government, it doesn't matter, it is illegal."
The captain and crew embroiled in the so-called cash-for-boat-turnback scandal have since been jailed on people smuggling charges and the Australian Government has never denied the payment was made.
In 2016, an interim Senate inquiry report found if the 2015 incident occurred as reported, saying "it potentially involved serious breaches of both Australian and international law".
"The evidence received by the committee would nevertheless suggest that, whatever the facts of the May 2015 incident (and any other like it), these are unlikely to be dealt with through court action either in Australia or Indonesia," the interim report stated.
Government senators on the committee issued a dissenting report and the Australian Government has consistently said its officers did not act illegally.
During the interview, Mr Vargas said South-East Asia and the region remained susceptible to smuggling rings.
"There is a lot of movement within the region," he said.
Mr Vargas said the UNHCR could not comment on whether any other cash payments had been made to boat crews.
"I'm just telling you that anyone who engages in behaviour where you are paying smugglers to smuggle people to another destination should face the full brunt of the law and full prosecution of the law," he said.
"Any government that engages in that behaviour, anyone, should of course face the consequences of the law, international laws and national laws, whichever apply."