Asylum-seeker arrivals slump, but Australia says no complacency
Lieutenant General Angus Campbell (L), commander of the federal government's Operation Sovereign Borders policy, in Sydney on September 23, 2013
The number of people brought to Australia on people-smuggling boats to seek asylum has declined by more than 80 percent since the conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott won power in September.
Under the Abbott government's Operation Sovereign Borders, asylum-seekers are sent to Pacific islands camps for processing with no chance of settlement in Australia, while boats intercepted at sea can be turned back to Indonesia.
"We've had no arrivals now for coming on to four weeks. In that same period last year there were over 450 arrivals and in the two previous years the arrivals were also in the hundreds, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.
Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who heads the military-led operation, told a press conference that "While I'm encouraged by this, I am not complacent."
"It will only be after the monsoon season ends, around late March, that I will be able to be in a position to confidently offer an assessment of how the operation is going," he said.
Morrison said the dramatic fall in the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat in Australia indicated "the right policies are in the right hands and they're beginning to get the right results".
Australia has refused to say whether any approaching boats have been turned back towards Indonesia, traditionally a key transit point for asylum-seekers fleeing countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, under the policy which has rankled Jakarta.
But Morrison hinted that reports of tow-backs could be accurate.
"While we do not comment on the details of our maritime operations, Border Protection Command is doing things differently to provide active deterrents to those seeking to enter Australia illegally by boat," he said.
Campbell did confirm media reports that officials had purchased large lifeboats to deploy as part of its work but would not provide information regarding "the potential or actual employment of these lifeboats".
Reports said the boats, similar to those carried by cruise ships, would be used to get asylum-seekers intercepted at sea back to Indonesia if their own boats were unseaworthly by releasing them near Indonesian waters, with sufficient fuel and provisions for them to reach land.
The government has refused to discuss "operational matters" related to border security and Morrison also said weekly press conferences would no longer be held, with a written statement to be issued instead.
Campbell said the public will be notified of serious incidents such as loss of life, but that information on operations would not be released to avoid giving people-smugglers a tactical advantage.
The government also refused to comment on reports that some asylum-seekers on Christmas Island were on hunger strike and had sewn their lips together.
"This particular incident is under control," Morrison said.
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