With elections around the corner, Australian Immigration Minister Tony Burke claimed a major policy success in bringing down, for the first time, the number of asylum seekers. Burke claimed that, after the implementation of the "PNG solution," - sending all asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific for permanent resettlement and refusing them entry into Australia - there was a visible decline in the number of asylum seekers arriving on Christmas Island within a month. On the sensitive election issues, he also used the opportunity to take a dig at the controversial boat buyback plan proposed by the Opposition Coalition.
According to a department official, quoted in the media, 4,236 asylum seekers arrived on 48 boats in July, whereas, the number for August dropped to 1,585 on 25 boats. The number of arrivals in the last week of August was 71, the lowest weekly figure since February.
Claiming to have broken the back of the people-smuggling trade, Burke said "they no longer had a product to sell."
He said it was for the first time that the population of processing centre on Christmas Island was showing a decline rather than increase.
"[It] is now fair to say that while there will be a few more boats that will test our resolve ... we have broken the back of the people-smuggling trade," he said.
However, The Australian reported that, Burke's claim "drew a withering response from the opposition and scepticism from law enforcement sources in Indonesia, who said that while the deal to transfer boat arrivals since July 19 to PNG, without any chance of being resettled in Australia was having an impact, would-be asylum-seekers were adopting a wait-and-see approach."
Meanwhile, Burke took a dig at the opposition, on this sensitive election issue, and ridiculed their Indonesian boat buyback plan as "the most absurd thing."
He quoted the electoral fact-checking group PolitiFact Australia, which conferred the controversial plan to buy up rickety Indonesian fishing boats to keep them from getting into the hands of people-smugglers, their first "Pants on Fire" award, declaring it as "the most ridiculous."
However, The Guardian reported that, Opposition Coalition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, defended the boat buyback scheme as just one of the "tools" for the Australian federal police and other agencies to use in the fight against people smugglers, as part of a $67m suite of policies for a regional deterrence.
"It's an operational measure, it's about giving the AFP and others the tools to do the job," The Guardian quoted Morrison as saying.
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