Illegals bound for crowded centre
Natalie O'Brien
The Australian
16 August 1999

AUSTRALIAN Federal Police yesterday began interviewing 140 suspected illegal immigrants, believed to be Iraqi, who arrived by boat at Christmas Island on Friday night.

The group, which includes seven women and 13 children, arrived in a well-equipped Indonesian fishing vessel and authorities are interviewing two crew members about the circumstances of their arrival on the island, 350km south of Jakarta. [emphasis added]

Last night, the boatpeople were being kept in makeshift accommodation -- mattresses on the floor in the Christmas Island sports hall -- until they could be moved to the already crowded Port Hedland detention centre.

Last month, the centre, designed for 700, was nearing its capacity with 680 people living there.

An Immigration Department spokeswoman said yesterday it was not known when the group would be moved to the centre. 'We do not have a confirmed time or date yet. We are still in the process of making travel arrangements,' she said. However, there was room at Port Hedland for the new arrivals.

'People move out of Port Hedland quite regularly either because they have been granted a visa to live in the community, been transferred to another detention centre or they have been returned home,' she said.

Immigration statistics show about 1000 people have arrived in Australia illegally by boat this year.

The latest arrival has renewed concerns about people-smuggling operations, particularly the recent increase in illegal immigrants and their sophisticated means of arrival. [emphasis added]

The Federal Government has introduced tough penalties for people-smuggling. The maximum fine is now $220,000.

Jail sentences have been increased from two to 10 years or up to 20 years for cases where more than five people were involved in the smuggling racket.

Last month, 15 Sri Lankans were feared drowned after their boat sank near Christmas Island in what was also believed to be a people-smuggling operation. About 20 people were towed to within sight of the island and then dumped in an unseaworthy vessel. The vessel sank, leaving one man confirmed drowned and 14 others missing presumed drowned.

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