05 July 2012

New asylum seeker rescue angers authorities

The latest rescue of 162 asylum seekers bound for Christmas Island has angered immigration authorities, who have accused unscrupulous people smugglers of treating the Australian navy 'like the NRMA'.

Australia immigration

Authorities have accused people smugglers of treating the Australian Navy like the National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA).

A boat carrying 162 people signalled the Australian immigration authorities for assistance yesterday when the boat was just 50 nautical miles south of Indonesian capital Java, still 150 nautical miles from Christmas Island. The crew claimed their vessel was taking on water and were in urgent need of assistance.

Australian authorities rushed to the scene and, deeming the vessel unseaworthy, took all passengers onboard off the vessel and escorted them to the detention centre on Christmas Island for processing.

Authorities in Australia are keen to avoid another disaster similar to the events of last month when two Australia bound asylum seeking boats in a week sank, leading to the deaths of an estimated 90 people.

However, authorities have accused people smugglers of deliberately sabotaging boats before departure and calling Australian authorities, not Indonesian authorities, almost immediately for assistance; one official compared it to 'calling the NRMA', the Australian equivalent of the AA.

"It's scandalous," said the official. "It's like calling the NRMA; they may as well have called us from the marina."

The official's suspicions have been echoed by Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, who said that people smugglers were telling their clients to 'ring Australia' should they run into difficulties.

"I think people smugglers put people to sea after they take their money and they tell people to ring Australia and expect that vessels will come to meet them," said Mr Clare.

"Sometimes it is a false alarm, sometimes it's the real thing. We treat every single phone call seriously because if you don't, people die."

Refugee advocate Marion Le said it was common knowledge that boats were routinely sabotaged and it was proof of the people smugglers' callous disregard for human life.

"For the smugglers themselves, this is about money," said Ms Le. "It gets to me that these people know exactly who to call in Australia."

The asylum seeking situation has remained in the headlines of late. After last month's disaster, politicians fought desperately to seek a suitable deterrent they could put in place which would halt the arrivals but parties could not agree and politicians broke for the six week winter break with more boat arrivals expected.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who managed to get a compromised solution to the issue through the House of Representatives before it was voted out in the Senate, criticised the smugglers' audacity but blamed the Senate for allowing such behaviour to continue.

"With a mobile phone and a few dollars, it's never been easier or cheaper to move across borders in the Asia-Pacific region," said the independent.

"Combine this with a policy deadlock in the Australian Senate and we are going to continue to see trafficking, smuggling and loss of life at sea.

"This issue is not going away and will only get worse while ever the Senate fails to find a compromise."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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