Australia to Boost Capacity at Offshore Camps for Asylum Seekers

Australia will expand capacity at its offshore processing camps for asylum seekers as it tries to halt a surge in arrivals by boat, the government said at its first weekly briefing on the issue since winning office.

Australia’s detention center on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where 798 asylum seekers are currently based, will be expanded by 1,230 places, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney today. The camp in Nauru, an island-nation in Micronesia, will be expanded by 2,000 people. There are 710 people there now, Morrison said, without providing the center’s current capacity.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledged to “stop the boats” when campaigning for elections on Sept. 7, when his coalition won 90 seats in the 150-member lower house to Labor’s 55. Abbott repeated that promise in his victory speech, referring to the often-unsafe vessels used by smugglers in Indonesia to ferry people who started their journey from strife-torn countries such as Afghanistan. Abbott and then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd both took a hard line before the election on preventing asylum seekers from being housed onshore.

Today’s briefing was the first as the new government shifts to giving weekly updates on the issue, with others to be held only when necessary, Morrison said. Under the former Labor government, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service informed the media every time a boat was intercepted in Australian waters.

‘Taking Control’

“People smugglers use information as a tactic to ply their trade,” Morrison said in a separate statement yesterday. “Taking control of how that information is released denies people smugglers the opportunity to exploit such information.”

The government will also update detention and bridging visa statistics for boat arrivals monthly, he said.

The change in how the Australian public is notified of boat arrivals is “counter-productive,” Labor’s Bill Shorten, who is vying for the party leadership after Rudd resigned in the aftermath of the party’s election loss, said earlier yesterday.

Asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat will be transfered to the camps within 48 hours, Morrison said today.

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