Children cram asylum seeker boats

MORE than 1000 children have been packed on to rickety refugee boats in just 12 months as the Government's asylum seeker policies unravelled.

More than 200 people arrived yesterday on two boats, on the first day of the dangerous monsoon season.

Last month 815 asylum seekers landed at Christmas Island - more than the 750 the Government had expected in all of 2011.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor yesterday said the arrivals were placing "greater pressure on our agencies".

Immigration figures show 1082 children aged up to 17 arrived in 2010-11, up from 135 just two years ago.

Eight children died in the Christmas Island boat crash last December, including four babies.

At least two more children drowned when an asylum seeker boat sank off Java a month ago.

Politicians yesterday continued to trade blame.

"The most vulnerable person on a boat is a child. Under this government one in five people on boats is a child," said Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen blamed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott after the Coalition indicated it would not support changing the Migration Act after the High Court ruled that a people swap deal with Malaysia was illegal.

"We did say that with Tony Abbott blocking offshore processing and the Malaysia Arrangement not being allowed to proceed, the boats would keep coming," a spokesman said.

"The Government's overriding aim has always been to prevent people - and especially unaccompanied minors and young children - being forced to risk their lives on that dangerous boat journey to Australia."

Hundreds of families have been moved into the community in the past year with 2000 people shipped out after the government said detention was not the right place for children.

Mr Bowen will appeal to Labor's conference this weekend to increase Australia's refugee intake by more than 6000 to 20,000 people a year in return for the Left's support for the Malaysia people swap deal.

Mr Bowen was unable to nominate when Australia should increase the intake.

Mr Morrison yesterday questioned whether the renewed appeal to Labor's caucus was a sign Left faction MPs would have crossed the floor had the Government called for a vote place before parliament rose for the year.(
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