A boatload of suspected asylum seekers intercepted off Australia's northern coast is being taken to an island center for processing. After a spate of people smuggling incidents, the government has outlined plans to intensify surveillance of its northern waters. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
This is the sixth boatload of suspected illegal migrants to enter Australian waters in the past two months.
A navy warship spotted the latest unauthorized arrival near the Western Australian town of Broome. On board were three crewmen and 44 passengers.
Their nationalities have not yet been made public.
The vessel is being escorted to Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, for immigration processing.
Because of the recent rise in captured smuggling vessels, the Canberra government will deploy an extra patrol boat and aircraft to increase surveillance off the northern coast. Many boat people have arrived in the north, sailing from nearby Indonesia.
What is responsible for rise in boat people?
Refugee advocate Phil Glendenning thinks that a surge in violence in Afghanistan may well be responsible for the recent increase.
"People are fleeing from the war, they are fleeing from persecution," he explained. "It's been predicted by the United Nations' Commissioner for Refugees that there would be this increase because of the conflicts that are taking place internationally, in particular in Afghanistan and that is what we are seeing and we should not be surprised by it."
Officials say there has been a "slight increase" in the number of boat people heading to Australia in recent weeks.
Government reacts to people smuggling criticism
However, government ministers reject opposition claims that people smuggling has risen because of a softening of immigration rules. Earlier this year the government abandoned the controversial practice of automatically detaining all asylum seekers who entered the country illegally.
The government says people traffickers are taking advantage of good seasonal conditions and the extra border patrols will protect Australia's vast and largely unguarded borders.
Australian police have charged a 31-year-old Indonesian man with people smuggling. The man, identified as Pombili, is alleged to have been in charge of a boat apprehended near the isolated Ashmore Islands last month.
He has been charged with bringing a group of non-citizens into Australia. It is an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.