By Eileen Gould
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
CANBERRA, Australia – A boat carrying forty-eight asylum seekers was intercepted by Australia’s navy this past Wednesday off the north-west coast of Western Australia, near the Ashmore Islands.
The Ashmore Guardian vessel, working under the Border Protection Command, stopped the boat around 9AM on Wednesday.
These individuals have been taken to Christmas Island for mandatory health, national security and identity checks.
In the last week alone, border authorities seized a total of three boats carrying asylum seekers and crew. This past Monday, the navy intercepted eleven asylum seekers near the Ashmore Islands. Again, on the following day, the navy intercepted an additional thirty asylum seekers and three crew members, who were attempting to enter Australia.
This brings the total number of asylum seeker boats arriving in Australia to sixty-one in 2009.
Tony Abbott, the federal Opposition Leader, accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of being soft on border protection and losing control of the nation’s borders.
In the future, Mr. Abbott says that the navy or coastguard may turn around boats carrying asylum seekers at sea, an approach endorsed by Mr. Rudd before the last election.
Even though taking such action may potentially violate international law, Abbott stated that “[t]his is something that is being done in the past and something that’s being done by comparable countries and if we are to fully protect our borders we can’t rule it out.”
This approach has been rejected by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor.
Mr. O’Connor supports the Government’s current policy, which involves taking intercepted asylum seekers to the detention facility on Christmas Island, where they remain while waiting for their refugee status to be processed.
In November 2007, Prime Minister Rudd called for tough measures to handle immigration, claiming that turning the boat back at sea is an effective deterrent.
At that time, he stated, “Deterrence is effective through the detention system but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has voiced criticism of both Mr. Abbott and Mr. Rudd.
Referring to the standoff with the Sri Lankan asylum seekers this past October, Mr. Fraser stated that the Government’s handling of the situation “doesn’t do Australia’s image as a humane, civilized, compassionate community much good.”
In light of this past week’s events, the Government’s border protection policy has come is being reviewed.
According to the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, the Government has spent more than $650 million to implement a strategy to prevent successful people smuggling.
For more information please see:
The Australian – Tony Abbott boat plan ‘miserable’ – 01 January 2010
The Daily Telegraph – More boat people intercepted – 31 December 2009
Sydney Morning Herald – Turn asylum seeker boats back: Abbott – 31 December 2009
ABC News – Another asylum seeker boat intercepted – 30 December 2009