People-smugglers have resorted to slashing prices and offering special deals for boat-people seeking a new life in Australia, including children traveling for free, as the country’s tough asylum seeker policies have hurt their profits, a top official said.
The number of boats arriving in Australia has dried up under the government’s policy of turning them back to Indonesia and denying would-be refugees resettlement by sending them to Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Australian Operation Sovereign Borders commander Angus Campbell said asylum seekers were now much less willing to undertake the dangerous journey, with people-smugglers looking at new ways to entice them.
“Prospective clients are looking for policy or operational changes before risking their lives and money on a boat to Australia. At present, the great majority have decided to wait and see,” he told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute late on Thursday.
In addition, many of the more affluent economic migrants who flowed into Southeast Asia looking to make the illegal trip to Australia had chosen to return home.
This had made people-smugglers more opportunistic.
“They have shown resilience and a capacity to innovate in attempts to entice new clients and circumvent current measures... Clearly the business of people-smuggling to Australia is under great pressure, with much-reduced prices, special deals and some smugglers offering kids to travel for free: all this and more, to put people’s lives at risk, in small boats on a large ocean,” Campbell said in a speech.
Despite no boats making it to Australia so far this year, compared with a high of 48 in a single month last July, Campbell said it would be a mistake for the country to relax its guard.
“Should 50 boats a year arrive into Australia, we know from recent experience, that many more would follow... The numbers on the move globally are so large, and the profits to be made so attractive, that both smugglers and travelers would not stop, indeed did not stop, at 50 boats,” he said.
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