Navy Boosts Border Patrols

Navy boosts border patrols

Sarah Smiles, Canberra
The Age
December 8, 2008

The sixth boat-load of asylum seekers to arrive in two months is taken to Christmas Island. Photo: Jon Faulkner

AN ADDITIONAL navy patrol boat and aircraft will be sent to bolster border security after another boat-load of asylum seekers arrived off Western Australia.

The boat, carrying 44 passengers and three crew, was spotted near Broome yesterday, and is the sixth to arrive in two months.

The Federal Government announced the extra surveillance amid pressure from the Opposition, which has blamed Labor's changes to immigration policy for the spike in arrivals.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said it was designed to deter people trying to enter Australia illegally.

“There will now be 17 navy and Customs vessels patrolling 365 days a year,” he said.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull criticised the Government for its policy changes, saying they had encouraged people smugglers.

The changes include closing some offshore processing centres and abolishing temporary protection visas (TPVs), which did not give security to boat people found to be refugees.

“This sixth vessel is a long-ignored wake-up call to Mr Rudd that his policy has been a mistake,” Mr Turnbull told reporters. He said TPVs had deterred people smugglers. “People smuggling is an industry and if they think Australia is a softer target then they will be sending more boats our way,” he said. Mr Debus denied the border regime had been softened.

“The Rudd Government has not abolished mandatory detention. These people will all be processed on Christmas Island but we will continue with our humane procedures,” he said.

“We won't be keeping people pointlessly in detention for long periods of time and we won't be detaining children.”

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has conceded that people smuggling has risen recently.

But he blamed this on increased violence in Afghanistan displacing people and smugglers using new tactics.

“We are up around 200 asylum seekers (this year),” said Mr Debus, who said weather also affected arrival numbers.

“That's about the same numbers within our migration zone last year and the year before.

“In Italy this year you had 30,000 asylum seekers and in Greece you had 20,000 asylum seekers.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency has called for calm, saying the arrivals represent a “tiny fraction” compared with others arriving around the world.

In other developments, an investigation into drug use at Villawood detention centre has been dropped by NSW Police for lack of evidence. Immigration Department figures show there have been at least 20 seizures of “prohibited substances” at Villawood in the past year and at least five at Maribyrnong.