Good for Tony Abbott…Sending the illegal alien invaders back in style on an air-conditioned, unsinkable 90-seat lifeboat, filled with enough food and water for the trip, and accompanied by an armed escort to make sure they get there. Arrival of the first boat in Java has sent shockwaves though the illegal people-smuggler and asylum seeker networks.
The Australian THIS is what awaits asylum-seekers trying to get to Australia on dodgy wooden smuggling boats – the gift of an air-conditioned, 90-seat lifeboat, and an armed escort back to Indonesia. This is the first close-up look at one of the 11 lifeboats that the Abbott Government has sourced out of Singapore in its uncompromising fight to stop the boats – a fight that it appears to be winning.
The fully enclosed and submersible 8.5m x 3.2m survival capsule, fitted with safety belts, navigational equipment, life jackets, food, water and an inboard diesel motor, came ashore in remote Cikepuh, in West Java, on the afternoon of January 15.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott today described the pictures of the lifeboat aground in Indonesia as “rather arresting”.
Naval officer Edi Sukendi, based in Ujung Genteng, the closest point between Indonesia and Australia, got word from a forest ranger that an unusual vessel had crash-landed and disgorged an estimated 60 asylum-seekers, who immediately scattered into the jungle. Sukendi, a naval operational with no boat of his own, asked a local fishermen to take him up the coast to Cikepuh to investigate. They found the orange capsule jammed on a coral reef within wading distance of shore and approached it cautiously.
“When we first saw it, we were very surprised,” Sukendi said. “We were worried it might have explosives.” He said they found discarded food and water bottles with Malaysian markings, and first assumed it had come from there.
Prime Minister Abbott’s turn-back policy has caused intense heat at the highest diplomatic levels between Indonesia and Australia. But there is no question the policy has sent a shock through smuggler and asylum networks, already reeling from Kevin Rudd’s declaration of July last year that no one who arrived by boat would ever settle in Australia.
Cisarua, in central West Java, once the biggest catchment for Australia-bound asylum-seekers, is a shadow of what it was only seven months ago, when thousands of asylum-seekers were highly visible on the city’s streets.
From June 2012 to June 2013, there was a huge surge in the boats, when 25,793 people made it to Australia under the former government. Most of those were Sri Lankan and Iranians, who during that period came in an unprecedented rush.
Now, it is estimated there are only 20 Iranian families left in the area. Most have gone home or are scattered in detention centres across Indonesia, awaiting formal resettlement.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office said in March last year, 68 per cent of people registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia were failing to do follow up interviews and were instead “opting to attempt to enter Australia illegally by boat. By December last year, that rate had dropped to nine per cent.”
When asylum seeker boats are picked up, they are fed and photographed, then ordered into the lifeboat. If they refuse to enter the capsule, they are shoved inside and given documents stating they were not permitted to enter Australian waters.
When asked about the above report, Mr Abbott today said the government’s border protection policies were helping stop the flow of asylum seeker boats. He made reference to a prospective asylum seeker quoted in the report as saying the passage to Australia was now closed. “Well, thank you sir, the way is closed … and as far as this government is concerned never ever will it be reopened,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
News Corp heard a report from an Iranian asylum-seeker, who took the boat that sunk off Java on July 23, that his group had been escorted to the coast in 11 mini-vans by 15 plainclothes men carrying automatic rifles and pistols. The asylum-seeker said the presence of the armed escorts – whom he believed were off-duty police or military – was unprecedented in the experience of most asylum-seekers, but showed how serious the smugglers had become as the way to Australia became harder.