CANBERRA, Australia -- Almost 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters so far this year, often risking their lives to make the trip in old and decrepit boats. Their sheer numbers -- four times more than for all of 2008 -- have left authorities worried, almost to the point of panic.
The spike in arrivals follows the election of Kevin Rudd as Australian prime minister 18 months ago. Upon taking office, Rudd and his Australian Labor Party immediately canceled the immigration policy of his conservative predecessor, John Howard. Known as the Pacific Solution, Howard's policy diverted asylum seekers arriving by boat to small island nations where they were jailed indefinitely, relieving his government of any obligation to deal with the highly unpopular "boat people."
A softer stance has since been instituted, but critics argue it has fueled a belief throughout the refugee camps of northwest Pakistan that anyone who makes it to the Australian coast stands a good chance of making it in.