A boat-load of asylum seekers believed to be from Afghanistan has been "intercepted" by the Australian navy and sent to the Christmas Island detention centre.
The boat, carrying 54 passengers, was noticed off the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory. The navy promptly detained everyone on board and transported them to the detention centre on Christmas Island, more than 2600 kilometres west of the Australian mainland.
News reports on the status of the refugees have been slim, but the federal government has said they "will not have their claims assessed" until they reach Christmas Island, according to ABC Online on March 16.
Home affairs minister Bob Debus said there were no children on the vessel. However, this was contradicted a day later by immigration minister Chris Evans, who said, "There might be one or more children on board", according to the March 16 online Australian.
There is extensive violence and instability in Afghanistan, where a Western-led escalating conflict is displacing Afghans in their tens of thousands.
The Red Cross has called it a growing humanitarian crisis.
Yet the immigration department has said that the recent arrival is only the second vessel to attempt landing in Australia this year and Evans has attributed this to "improved border security".
"What we're seeing is huge numbers of people being impacted by the violence in Afghanistan and increasingly, I think, we'll see people fleeing Sri Lanka", he said, according to the ABC Online article.
"The key to this is working with our northern neighbours, Indonesia in particular, to try to stop the flow of people."
Despite federal Labor announcing a "more humane" refugee policy — abolishing the appalling Howard-sponsored "Pacific Solution" and promising to put an end to children being kept in detention — the recent moves by government indicate that asylum seekers will still struggle to find adequate refuge on Australian soil.
In February, the Rudd government pledged to "double its humanitarian aid for people fleeing war and persecution", according to the February 23 Australian, an announcement that coincided with a visit from UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
The article reported that the aid — increasing from $6.5 million in 2008 to $12.8 million for this year — is for overseas programs that are specifically designed to "stop people from attempting risky journeys to Australia", Evans said.
Evans claims his immigration policy targets people smugglers.
Yet the Australian Human Rights Commission continues to criticise the Rudd government, stating on January 13 that the government has failed to implement the key changes previously announced, including ending the detainment of children and the complete repeal of mandatory detention.
Following the detainment of the 54 refugees, figures have been released by the immigration department showing a "massive spike" in people escaping persecution and attempting the journey to Australia, reported ABC Online on March 17.