14 June 2012

Child crew members add to deteriorating Australian immigration situation

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Human traffickers smuggling people into Australia are leaving asylum seeker boats in the hands of children to avoid prosecution under Australian immigration laws, further contributing to a worsening asylum seeker situation.

Australian immigration

The asylum seeking situation in Australia is worsening.

Australian immigration authorities apprehended two 14-year-old boys in charge of an asylum seeking boat heading to Christmas Island yesterday. The experienced and adult crew had apparently jumped ship in the knowledge that the children would not be prosecuted.

The two boys and the 72 asylum seekers they were accompanying were escorted to Christmas Island for processing. The two boys are expected to be given health checks and a short detention before being returned to Indonesia.

"We know that the captain will often abandon the asylum boat and go back, and there have been under-age crew before but this looks like a new thing to leave just kids in charge," an immigration official said.

With the asylum seeking situation in Australia deteriorating, the monthly total of arrivals has now surpassed 800, almost double the budgeted 450, the advent of children crewing asylum seeking boats is just one of two new problems for Australian immigration authorities.

The arrival of a boat carrying 35 Sri Lankan asylum seekers at the Cocos Islands has raised concerns that Australia's resources are becoming too finely stretched to properly police the country's waters, increasing the risk of a disaster like the one that saw hundreds of asylum seekers drown in December.

Another boat arriving at the Ashmore Islands, an uninhabited Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, further deepened these concerns and prompted Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to have the boat diverted straight to the mainland for processing rather than to Christmas Island.

While a spokesperson for the minister insisted the move did not reflect a shift in policy, many suspect it could reflect the worsening conditions in the Christmas Island detention centre, which is now using contingency plans to accommodate new arrivals.

Mr Bowen blamed the opposition for the new arrivals, claiming their abstinence to allow for legislation will prompt more to come:

"As predicted by the government, with the Coalition blocking offshore processing more people are arriving by boat, which means more lives are being put at risk on that dangerous sea journey."

The government claims the opposition's reluctance to negotiate legislation which would allow the failed people swap deal known as the Malaysia Solution to pass is the cause of the boat arrivals. The opposition however, refutes these accusations, claiming more than the entire quota of the proposed Malaysia Solution has arrived in the past two weeks alone.

"Labor have become their own pull factor for illegal boat arrivals, regardless of their polices," said opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison..

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

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