'Travel with us & we smuggle your kid for free'

'Travel with us & we smuggle your kid for free'
This vessel en route to Australia was filled to capacity when it was intercepted by the authorities.

Human-smugglers have resorted to slashing prices and offering special deals for boat people seeking a new life in Australia.

The deals include children travelling for free.

The smugglers' desperate measures come as Australia's tough asylum-seeker policies hurt their profits, a top official said.

The number of boats arriving in Australia has dried up under the government's policy of turning them back to Indonesia and denying would-be refugees resettlement by sending them to Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Mr Angus Campbell, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, said asylum-seekers were now much less willing to undertake the dangerous journey, with the smugglers looking at new ways to entice them, AFP reported.

"Prospective clients are looking for policy or operational changes before risking their lives and money on a boat to Australia.

"At present, the great majority have decided to wait and see," he told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Thursday.

In addition, many of the more affluent economic migrants who had flowed into South-east Asia looking to make the illegal trip to Australia have chosen to return home.

This has made human-smugglers more opportunistic.

"They have shown resilience and a capacity to innovate in attempts to entice new clients and circumvent current measures," Mr Campbell said.

"Clearly the business of people-smuggling to Australia is under great pressure, with much-reduced prices, special deals, and some smugglers offering kids to travel for free; all this and more, to put people's lives at risk, in small boats in a large ocean."

Despite no boats making it to Australia so far this year, compared to a high of 48 in a single month last July, he said it would be a mistake for the country to relax its guard.


He said: "Should 50 boats a year arrive in Australia, we know from recent experience, that many more would follow.

"The numbers on the move globally are so large, and the profits to be made so attractive, that both smugglers and travellers would not stop, indeed did not stop, at 50 boats."

In its budget this week, Australia estimated its policies to prevent illegal boat arrivals would reap savings of A$2.5 billion (S$2.9 billion) over five years, with detention centres now being closed down.

This article was published on May 17 in The New Paper.

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