Indonesian and Australian police have stopped 14 boats laden with asylum seekers from travelling to Australia this year, including at least three in the past six weeks, as people-smuggling activity accelerates across the archipelago. Four boats have made it to Australian waters. On Thursday, one of them, with 12 Sri Lankans aboard, became the first boat in two years to reach the mainland, near Shark Bay in Western Australia. Government sources said the arrivals, who were being transferred to Christmas Island, would have access to Australian law should they claim asylum.
The previously undisclosed figures on people-smuggling disruption, confirmed by Australian Federal Police, highlight the success of the joint operation combating human trafficking. But the data also points to a spike in asylum seekers trying to come to Australia, a politically sensitive issue for the Rudd Government. This year, the Government softened its policy towards illegal immigrants and has allowed the navy - which intercepts boats - to stand down for two months over Christmas due to a manpower shortage.