Call to act on wave of illegals
By Megan Saunders, Peter Krupka , Roger Martin
The Australian
10 November 1999

A SURGE of 700 boatpeople in the past week has prompted a special parliamentary mission to detention centres in the nation's north-west today and an urgent expansion of holding facilities in preparation for more illegal arrivals.

Authorities revealed yesterday that two new boatloads carrying 184 Middle-Eastern refugees had been intercepted by federal police on Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef, hundreds of kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. Five vessels carrying 693 mainly Middle-Eastern boatpeople have been intercepted in the past week. One carried a record 352 people.

To cope with the wave of arrivals, the Howard Government is spending $1million to prepare the Woomera army base in the South Australian desert to house an extra 400 illegal migrants. It should be ready within a fortnight.

Customs Minister Amanda Vanstone said the Government had begun preparing the base after intelligence sources predicted there would be more arrivals in coming weeks.

Senator Vanstone called on the Opposition to support measures proposed by Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock, which include giving refugees, deemed genuine, a three-year temporary protection visa.'We've had an increasing flow, especially from the Middle East. That's why the Government took the step of changing the visa entitlements to make us a less attractive place,' she said.

Her comments come as six members of the joint standing committee on migration prepare to tour centres in Curtin, Port Hedland, Broome, Perth and Darwin today and tomorrow.

Committee chairwoman Chris Gallus described the latest wave as 'incredible' and said the detention centres were now 'chock-a-block'.

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