PEOPLE smugglers are luring more passengers by offering cut-price deals because of the economic crisis, an academic says. Dr Khalid Koser, from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, has been looking at the financial crisis’s impact on asylum seekers and migration, and says it has contributed to the recent spike in unauthorised boat arrivals to Australia.

Smugglers in countries such as Indonesia were offering “discounts and cut prices to move larger numbers of people and generate a profit”, Dr Koser said. “They are reducing the prices of trips to generate more of a market and get money back because they, like everybody else, are feeling the squeeze of the financial crisis.”

Rising unemployment in South-East Asia had increased the number of desperate people willing to risk fleeing to Australia. Authorities have intercepted 16 boats carrying asylum seekers in Australian waters this year, one of which exploded, killing five people.

The Opposition blames the Government’s “soft” border protection policies. It says the Christmas Island detention centre is almost at capacity, with more than 1000 asylum seekers.

“Policies play a role but it’s important to note that the spike in boat arrivals has coincided with the financial crisis,” Dr Koser said. He also warned Australia risked stepping out of a “global market for skills” if it cut skilled migration levels. The Federal Government shed 25,000 places this year to help protect local jobs.