Australian police have arrested five men they say facilitated dozens of dangerous sea voyages for asylum seekers, in a nationwide raid authorities say could help reduce people smuggling into Australia.
Police said Thursday the three Afghans, one Pakistani and one Iranian arrested in the sting operation played a crucial part in organizing up to 132 people smuggling boat trips.
One of the suspects, Barkat Ali Wahide of Afghanistan, was charged with two counts of smuggling. The others were expected to appear in court Thursday. Authorities expect more arrests to follow.
Australian Federal Police say they are hopeful the arrests will help deal a blow to people smuggling into Australia, which has become a sensitive political and humanitarian issue in the country.
Hundreds of asylum seekers drown each year during dangerous journeys in flimsy and overcrowded boats headed for Australia. Australia says there were nearly 200 such boat arrivals in the first half of this year.
Australia's government last month announced it would no longer accept asylum seekers by boat, in an effort to discourage such journeys. It is now sending verified refugees to Papua New Guinea or the tiny Pacific Island nation of Nauru for processing and resettlement.
Australia's conservative opposition and some rights groups have criticized the new policy as inhumane.