Thu, Jul 26, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Australia sees record asylum seekers

VOYAGES OF THE DAMNED:Although many have died at sea, thousands continue to board leaky boats after Canberra failed to pass legislation to deal with the issue

AFP, SYDNEY

The number of boat people coming to Australia surged past the previous annual record in the first seven months of the year, despite scores of deaths at sea, the government said yesterday.

The Department of Immigration said 92 boats carrying 6,557 asylum seekers, excluding crew, had landed in Australian waters this year.

The previous record was 6,555, reached over the 2010 calendar year.

A rush of crowded boats have recently arrived after the government failed to pass new legislation to transfer boat people to Malaysia — a move Canberra hoped would deter refugees from making the risky voyage.

“As the government has made clear countless times, without a real deterrent in place more boats will arrive and more lives will be put at risk on the high seas,” a spokeswoman for Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.

Bowen’s office said the government was committed to breaking the impasse and hoped an expert panel set up by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to advise on how to deal with the issue would help stop the flood of boats and save lives.

Australia is facing a steady wave of asylum seekers, many of whom use Indonesia as a transit hub, boarding leaky wooden vessels there after fleeing their home countries.

An estimated 94 people drowned en route last month after two boats sank in waters off Indonesia, but the vessels have continued to come.

Despite the influx of asylum seekers, who are subject to mandatory detention until their claims for refugee status are assessed, Bowen’s office said authorities were able to manage the numbers.

“The government has capacity in the detention network, with new accommodation recently coming online, regular transfers of asylum seekers throughout the network and more people being processed in the community,” the spokeswoman said.

Australia wants to deter boat people by transferring them to Malaysia for processing, in exchange for accepting thousands of that nation’s registered refugees for resettlement.

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