SYDNEY: Australia said yesterday just one asylum-seeker boat has been intercepted over the past week, marking a sharp reduction under the government’s hardline policy, while eight alleged people-smugglers were arrested in Indonesia.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s vow to “Stop the Boats” was a centrepiece of his recent election campaign and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the policies were working. Under Operation Sovereign Borders, 215 people had been intercepted in the last three weeks, significantly down on the thousands who were routinely arriving each month earlier this year.
“The experience of people confronting our policies and our resolve is what makes the difference,” Morrison said in a weekly briefing.
The policies include turning back people-smuggling boats to Indonesia and plans to pre-emptively buy up rickety fishing vessels and pay villagers for intelligence. The government has also maintained the policies of the old Labor administration in which all asylum-seekers arriving by boat are sent to Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the Pacific for processing and resettlement.
Morrison refused to say if any boats had been towed back to Indonesia, their usual point of departure. “The practice in these briefings is not to comment on operations that might jeopardise current or future operations, so I won’t be commenting on those matters,” he said.
The government has come under fire for not providing the public with more timely details on boat arrivals or tow backs, but Abbott denied trying to prevent any bad publicity. Indonesian police were also seeking an arrest warrant for a suspected people-smuggling kingpin, he added, without going into further details.