New Boatload Has Christmas Island At Breaking Point

New boatload has Christmas Island at 'breaking point'

By Nicolas Perpitch
The Australian, September 24, 2009,25197,26117448-2702,00.html

Another boatload of 100 asylum-seekers has arrived on the Indian Ocean outpost of Christmas Island, sparking renewed claims that the Rudd government's border protection policy is in tatters and the controversial offshore detention centre is at breaking point.

HMAS Glenelg stopped a boat carrying 100 asylum-seekers just northwest of Christmas Island at 5am yesterday. They were eventually ferried ashore for security, identity and health checks.

The latest arrival follows the discovery on Saturday by Australian authorities of a boatload of 54 illegal immigrants found adrift in international waters without food or water and on an uncrewed vessel.

Twenty-six boats have been intercepted this year by Australian border protection authorities, including seven in the past two weeks.

Acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop said the government had to accept the blame for the increasing numbers.

'I'm informed the Christmas Island facilities are at breaking point,' Ms Bishop said. 'The government refuses to take responsibility, it refuses to admit it has a problem, (it) is in denial.

'It is time for the government to admit that it got it wrong on border protection and hold a review into the changes it made to the border protection laws last August, which have led to this surge in boat arrivals.'

The latest arrivals took the number of asylum-seekers on the island to 841, along with 12 crew.

There are 677 mainly single adult males being held at the island's North West Point detention centre. An Immigration Department spokesman said the centre could hold more than 1100 people.

Another 101, mainly families, were being held at the centre's former construction camp. And 55 were in transportables adjacent to the camp.

The Immigration spokesman said 17 more were in community detention, including families and unaccompanied minors.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the government placed a high priority on protecting Australia's borders from irregular maritime arrivals.

'The Australian government remains vigilant and committed to protecting Australia's borders, and today's successful interception by Border Protection Command continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of the proactive response program in place.' Mr O'Connor said.

But Ms Bishop said West Australian Premier Colin Barnett had made the obvious point in saying former prime minister John Howard 'had it right' with his asylum-seeker policies.

Refugee advocate Rosemary Hudson-Miller said asylum-seekers often had no option but to attempt the trip to Australia.

'They want durable solutions to their situation, and they can't get them in Indonesia so they have to keep coming,' she said.