THE number of children being taken on dangerous sea crossings to Australia has exploded since the Gillard Government said two months ago it would free women and children from detention.
In October 141 children arrived by boat, up from 58 in September and Department of Immigration figures show 124 arrived by sea last month.
The Christmas Island boat crash tragedy showed how vulnerable children are on the journey with seven killed, including three baby girls and a baby boy.
The toll was yesterday revised up to 48, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard revealing there were most likely 90 men, women and children on the SIEV 221 when it smashed into rocks last week.
Already 30 Iranian, Iraqi and Kurdish asylum seekers have been confirmed dead, while 42 were rescued. Ms Gillard said it was likely a further 18 had died.
“We are talking about very rough seas, very rocky and difficult coastline and so it may be that there are bodies of people who travelled on the boat that are never recovered,” she said.
Asylum seeker advocate Jamal Daoud said more children were being placed on rickety sea vessels to come to Australia because of delays caused by the Government’s decision to freeze new asylum claims earlier this year.
He said traditionally a male asylum seeker would come by boat and then arrange for his wife and children to fly in under a family reunion program.
“We understand more children are coming by boat because of the slow process of applications and there was a freeze … before 2008-09 there was not many women and children coming because the time for applications to be processed was less than three months,” he said.
“You would be out of detention and there would be a family reunion. Now you have people in detention for more than one year.”
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen denied the Government’s policies had given incentive for asylum seekers to bring children because they knew they would be housed in the community.
“The increase in children in terms of numbers is commensurate with the increase in total arrivals. In short, there’s no noticeable trend. This percentage has barely moved,” a spokesman said.
In August, 43 children arrived by boat, 100 came in July, 77 in June and 118 in May. In October a total of 766 people arrived by boat, 729 arrived in November and arrivals in the other months ranged from 327 people to 617.
The Federal Government defended the number of arrivals this week, saying the influx was caused by violence in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka not by its policies.
As the focus turned to how to stop people smuggling, Federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie called for Australia to double its humanitarian refugee intake – which Ms Gillard ruled out.