The Australian Navy on Saturday intercepted two boats carrying more than 120 asylum seekers combined, bringing the number of asylum seekers caught this month alone to more than 500, officials said. It indicates a sharp increase in the number of new arrivals.
ACV Triton, operating under the control of Australia's Border Protection Command, intercepted the first suspected people smuggling vessel northeast of Christmas Island on Saturday morning. Another people smuggling vessel was later caught by the ACV Ashmore Guardian southwest of the Ashmore Islands.
Korena Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, said the first vessel was carrying a total of 100 passengers and 2 crew members and the second was carrying 24 passengers and 3 crew members. "Border Protection Command have transferred the passengers to Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial security, health and identity checks and their reasons for travel will be established," she said.
So far this year, the Australian Navy has intercepted 3,658 irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs), most of them coming from Afghanistan and Iran who use Indonesia as a transit region. As of March 31, a total of 4,197 people are being held in immigration facilities while 1,712 people have been approved for a residence determination to live in the community.
This month alone, authorities have caught more than 520 asylum seekers who attempted to reach Australia by boat, indicating a sharp increase in the number of new arrivals. On Thursday, the ACV Botany Bay intercepted one vessel carrying 23 passengers and 2 crew members southwest of the Ashmore Islands.
Australia's Migration Act 1958 requires people who are not Australian citizens and who are unlawfully in Australia to be detained. This law has been heavily criticized by the United Nations and human rights organizations as many asylum seekers are in detention for months. In 2010, a total of 4,612 irregular maritime arrivals were intercepted by the Australian Navy.
However, the boat journeys made by asylum seekers are not without risk. In December 2010, at least 30 people were killed when a boat carrying more than 90 asylum seekers sank off the coast of Christmas Island. Forty-two people were rescued, while an unknown number of people remain missing.