Australia’s opposition has called for a military solution to fight people smugglers, as the toll from the sinking of an asylum boat rose to 11. Opposition leader Tony Abbott said the issue was “a national emergency”, and he would ask a military commander to tackle the boats, if elected.
The migrant boat sank off Indonesia’s Java island, a transit point for people-smugglers, on Wednesday.Asylum policy is due to be a key issue in elections this year in Australia. Australia has experienced a spike in asylum seekers arriving by boat this year. “There is a national emergency on our borders,” Mr Abbott said on Thursday. “That’s why we need to have a senior military officer in operational control.”
Under the plan, called Operation Sovereign Borders, the chief of the defence force would be asked to appoint a commander to lead operations tackling people smugglers and asylum boats. The commander would report directly to the immigration minister, creating “a clear chain of command”, Mr Abbott said. Boat arrivals have soared in the past 18 months, with most asylum seekers coming from Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They make their way to Indonesia and from there head to Christmas Island, the closest part of Australian territory to Java. They travel in boats that are often over-crowded and poorly-maintained. Several have sunk in recent months, killing passengers.