190 asylum-seekers headed for Australia
Boat being tracked by border protection
"Government failing to deter boat arrivals"
Ben Packham, Daily Telegraph, 27.6.09
THE biggest boatload of asylum-seekers since the Tampa crisis is heading towards Australia.
The vessel, believed to be carrying up to 190 people, is being tracked by border protection authorities. It recently passed between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra and is believed to be southeast of Bali, the Herald Sun reports.Authorities are waiting to see if it heads east towards Darwin or southwest towards Ashmore Reef.
The boat is one of several being monitored by Border Protection Command, which tracks suspect vessels as soon as they leave port. If the numbers aboard are as high as authorities believe, the vessel could mark a turning point in the tactics of people smugglers.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor's office declined to comment, saying it did not discuss operational matters.
Most boats in recent times have carried about 20 unauthorised arrivals. But there are bigger profits to be made by smugglers who are willing to load more people aboard old fishing boats and ferries.
The Norwegian freighter MV Tampa rescued 433 asylum seekers from a leaky boat in 2001, prompting the Howard Government's so-called "Pacific Solution". The policy was dismantled by the Rudd Government, which axed mandatory detention and closed processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island. It has also stopped billing immigration detainees for the cost of their stay.
The number of unauthorised boats heading to Australia has been steadily climbing, with 15 arriving already this year. The latest came this week, carrying 49 asylum seekers and four crew.
The asylum seeker surge will test refugee processing facilities on Christmas Island, which are reportedly close to capacity.
Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said the Government was failing to deter boat arrivals. "It's on for young and old again," she said. "The people smugglers clearly have a well established pipeline to Australia and they are using the Rudd Government's soft policies to recruit more clients."