The federal opposition has used the arrival of another boatload of asylum seekers and the interception of five others in Malaysia to back their case against the abolition of detention debts.
Some 194 asylum seekers are being taken to the Christmas Island detention facility for health and security checks after the navy picked up their vessel off the island yesterday.
On Monday Malaysian authorities said weekend operations had intercepted five boats, carrying more than 50 mostly Afghans and Pakistani nationals, bound for Australia via Indonesia.
The opposition says more than 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters since the Rudd government softened Australia’s border protection polices in August last year.
Another 1,000 people had been intercepted by Indonesian authorities.
The opposition says that instead of talking tough on border protection, the government is pushing ahead with plans to abolish the long-established practice of charging asylum seekers for the cost of their detention.
“It was a principle that should have been retained,” opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said on Monday, adding that people smugglers were now responsible for 20 per cent of refugees coming to Australia.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans admitted the government was very concerned about the number of unauthorised arrivals.
“We’re absolutely determined to put an end to that trade and we’ve committed an awful lot of resources recently to try and combat these arrivals,” he said.
Senator Evans said the new detention facility on Christmas Island would be able to cope with the new arrivals.
“But we also have contingency plans in place if we need more capacity,” he said.
Malaysian authorities have been cracking down on the growing number of people using the country as a gateway for illegal sea voyages to Australia, mostly via Indonesia.
On Saturday, authorities in central Selangor state stopped four small boats, ferrying 15 Afghans, six Pakistanis and 11 Indonesians, on a river.
They were apparently planning to transfer to a bigger boat, which was caught with 21 Afghans already on board, Marzuki Ismail, the state’s marine police chief, said on Monday.
It appears the ship was bound for Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the Pakistani and Afghan passengers had paid $A1,600 each to agents in Malaysia for the trip.
Authorities also arrested three Indonesian boatmen, but two others managed to escape.
In recent months, more than 100 Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis who had entered Malaysia legally have been caught embarking on rickety and overcrowded boats for Indonesia en route to Australia.
Several boats have sunk, killing more than a dozen people. Just two weeks ago, Malaysian police detained a boat that was also trying to smuggle 17 Iraqis to Australia via Indonesia.
Seven Indonesians were arrested in that raid. So far this year, Australian authorities have intercepted 15 boats carrying asylum seekers in its waters.