The floating convoy of asylum seekers to Australia’s far-flung Indian Ocean territories continues yesterday, with a new boatload of more than 50 people arriving at Christmas Island.

Government authorities are barging 53 Tamils – believed to be all young men – from their fishing boat onto the dock at Flying Fish Cove.

The asylum seekers, who were packed tight on the deck of their small fishing boat, are believed to have been sailing for at least three weeks.

Their fishing vessel was escorted to Christmas Island by an Australian Navy patrol boat.
The vessel brings to four the number of asylum seeker boats that have arrived at the island in four days.

Another beached at the Cocos Islands yesterday, and yet another was detected at Ashmore Reef.

Almost 70 Tamil asylum were flown 1000 kilometres from the Cocos Islands to the packed detention centre on Christmas Island this morning.

The 67 men, who are believed to have sailed aboard a people smuggler’s boat from Sri Lanka, were picked up after they arrived at the remote Cocos Islands group in the Indian Ocean yesterday.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship chartered a jet to make the round trip from Christmas Island to Cocos. It arrived back on Christmas Island shortly after 10am (local time).

The asylum seekers were loaded on to buses at the Christmas Island and taken under security through rainforests for processing at the large detention centre.

Many of the men smiled and waved as their bus was driven from the tarmac.

Detention facilities on Christmas Island are already stretched to their full official capacity of 1500 after a recent upsurge in boats bringing asylum seekers from Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Another 41 asylum seekers are being transferred to Christmas Island after being found at Ashmore Reef.

The latest arrivals appear to confirm that people smugglers are ramping up operations to exploit the continuing political impasse in Australia about the most suitable policy to deal with those seeking asylum.

The Sri Lankan boat was the fourth to arrive at the Cocos Islands – also known as the Keeling group – in less than a month.

Its choice as a new destination for people smuggling activities adds a massive area to Australia’s border protection responsibilities.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today she would take seriously advice from an expert panel looking at the asylum seeker issue, even if it recommended dumping her government’s Malaysian people swap deal.

Ms Gillard last week established the panel – comprising former defence chief Angus Houston, former top diplomat Michael L’Estrange and refugee advocate Paris Aristotle – to assess all asylum policy options.

The panel will look closely at the Malaysian deal and the coalition’s preferred policies – reopening Nauru, reintroducing temporary protection visas and boat tow-backs – and report back to the government and parliament in August.

Ms Gillard said she would take with “utmost significance” any advice from the panel, even if it called for the Malaysia deal to be scrapped.

“I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t in the business of taking the greatest regard possible for what they come out with,” she told ABC Television today.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on Friday said the panellists were all Australians of “great distinction” but that he would be sticking to his policies regardless of the panel’s findings.

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott’s position revealed a lot about his “outlook and character”.
“What kind of person is it who watches that misery, watches that pain, sees that death, hears the advice from experts and won’t change their minds one millimetre?” she said.
“What kind of person does that?”

The parliament last week failed to pass a bill to restore the government’s power to send asylum seekers offshore despite about 100 people dying in twin boat disasters in the past two weeks.

(The Age)