The United Nations says it will examine allegations that asylum seekers were abused by members of the Australian Navy as their boats were turned back to Indonesia.
Footage obtained by ABC News shows asylum seekers with severe burns to their hands, but it is impossible to verify how they received them.
“UNHCR has heard serious allegations of boats carrying potential asylum-seekers being pushed back from Australia to Indonesia and of mistreatment during the process,” a refugee agency spokeswoman in Jakarta told AFP.
“We are corroborating these individual accounts. If confirmed, we hope that the Australian authorities will conduct a swift investigation into these allegations.”
Refugee advocates, meanwhile, have cried foul over the lack of public information about border protection operations in their submission to a parliamentary inquiry.
A Senate committee is examining the Abbott government’s secrecy over its Operation Sovereign Borders, especially the immigration minister’s reliance on a public interest immunity to deny the upper house access to official documents.
The Senate has demanded the government disclose specific details about “operational matters” related to asylum seeker boat interceptions.
In response the government tabled transcripts of the minister’s media briefings, citing national security reasons for keeping other information under wraps.
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service, in a submission to the inquiry, said it was concerned by the use of the public interest immunity.
The government’s claim that release of the information would damage national security was overstated, it said.
But immigration department secretary Martin Bowles, in his submission, insisted disclosure would damage national security, international relations and defence.
The committee will hold a public hearing in Canberra next week.