The surge of asylum seekers flooding into Australian waters was a direct result of the Federal Government’s policies, according to the men who send the boats here.

For weeks Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has denied the sharp rise in the number of refugee boats was connected to Labor’s decision to overturn the Howard government’s hardline Pacific Solution.

But a former people-smuggler now living in Australia, who can only be identified as Shadi, said: “The immigration rules in Australia were changed and everyone knows it and that’s why so many are now coming. “Before, the reason it stopped was John Howard absolutely, he deterred some boats by force and Nauru Island where they (boat people) knew they could get stuck for one or two or three years.

“We and the passengers would check the internet daily to see what Canberra was doing and we all knew these things,” he told The Courier-Mail.

The Rudd Government tightened Australia’s borders on Friday by immediately suspending the processing of asylum claims from Sri Lanka for three months and claims from Afghanistan for six months.

About 50 men, who arrived at Villawood from Christmas Island last month, began a hunger strike late on Sunday, according to advocacy group the Social Justice Network.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the Government understood Australians were concerned about the influx of boat arrivals.

The Government will decide whether to extend the bans after the suspension period ends. But Mr Smith was forced to deny this amounted to indefinite detention, or a stripping away of human rights.

He said under the Howard Government “very many people (were) on very, very long periods of indefinite detention – years, not months”. “We want to, once processing starts, process people expeditiously,” he told the Nine Network.

“We don’t want to return to the bad old days where people are left in the wilderness for years and where people are effectively vilified for exercising their rights under the refugee convention.”

His comments came as authorities intercepted another boatload of 25 asylum seekers on their way to Australia yesterday. A large flotilla of boats is expected to leave from the Indonesian archipelago within days.

Authorities have identified at least 15 people-smuggling gangs in Malaysia and Indonesia, who have mobilised hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka.

SOURCE

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