Boat arrivals open door to NT processing
The Australian Associated Press, March 23, 2010
Authorities have intercepted another two asylum-seeker boats, a development that is set to force the federal government to begin processing refugee claims on the mainland.
The two boats with a total of 79 passengers, including five crew, are being taken to Christmas Island where facilities are under strain because of a continued surge in arrivals.
There are already 2008 people in detention on Christmas Island.
Another boat carrying 18 asylum seekers and four crew, intercepted on Sunday, is yet to arrive.
The latest interceptions will take the detainee population beyond the island's capacity of 2040.
HMAS Bathurst intercepted one of the boats at around 8.30am AEDT on Tuesday, west of the Ashmore Islands. Initial indications suggested 19 passengers and three crew were on board.
The second boat, the 28th intercepted in Australian waters this year, was found at around 10am north of Adele Island with 55 passengers and two crew.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said both groups would be transferred to Christmas Island for security, identity and health checks. Their reasons for travel will also be established.
The opposition, which maintains the flood of asylum seekers heading to Australia is the result of Labor winding back elements the former Howard government's border protection regime, seized on the latest influx.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the full house at Christmas Island should be a wake-up call to the government about its policy.
'I have no doubt that the government will play musical beds to try and avoid the perception that Christmas Island is full, but that's just rearranging the deck chairs,' Mr Morrison told AAP.
'They need to end their denial.'
Mr Morrison also claims the government revealed the interceptions late in the day, so the news did not interfere with Mr Rudd's performance at the lunchtime health debate.
'They knew about it as the prime minister took to the stage,' he said. 'They don't want to face scrutiny on their border protection failures.'
A spokesman for Mr O'Connor said the government consistently released details of interceptions within 24 hours.
'Our priority is to get the information right first,' he said.
The government has previously said Darwin could be used to accommodate detainees in the final stages of processing.
It maintains that transferring offshore-entry people to the mainland will not change their legal status or give them access to onshore processing arrangements.
2 more asylum boats intercepted
The ABC News (Australia), March 23, 2010
The Federal Government said two boats carrying asylum seekers were intercepted in Australian waters this morning.
One boat carrying 19 people and three crew was intercepted west of Ashmore Islands.
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