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People Smugglers Offer Bargain Trips to Australia


An expert in illegal migration warns that people smugglers are encouraging more asylum seekers to head to Australia by cutting prices because of the economic downturn.

This year, more than 900 boat people have been intercepted by Australian patrols, a significant increase on arrivals in 2008.

Dr. Khalid Koser from the Geneva Center for Security Policy, an international foundation, thinks that is because traffickers have lowered their prices, to cope with the global economic slowdown.

Rising unemployment in Southeast Asia and conflicts in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have caused a surge in desperate people willing to pay smugglers large fees to help them flee to Australia.

Dr. Koser says that people smugglers are often legitimate travel agents who have branched out into the illicit world of trafficking.

"The evidence that I have from various sources is that smugglers themselves are, of course, being impacted by the global financial crisis and one of the responses is that they are lowering their costs, said Koser. "So, I think it is very possible that as a result of the financial crisis, you have potentially increasing smuggling, so I think smugglers are out there trying to drum up business and make sure that they can keep their profits coming in," he said.

Opposition politicians accuse the Australian government of going soft on illegal immigration, causing the recent spike in illegal arrivals. Senior officials in Canberra reject those criticisms.

Since his election in November 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has closed controversial processing centers for asylum seekers in small South Pacific countries. He also has relaxed the policy of automatically locking away all illegal entrants until their claims for refugee status are assessed.

Koser also warns that Australia's decision to reduce levels of skilled migration could make it harder for its economy to bounce back from the economic slowdown.

This year Canberra cut 25,000 places from its skilled immigration program to help protect local workers.

Australia resettles about 13,000 refugees annually as part of official humanitarian programs.

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