Australian authorities have intercepted two boats of asylum seekers in less than 24 hours, prompting the opposition leader on Thursday to accuse the government of a "catastrophic failure" to stop the influx of migrants. Some 35 boats carrying about 1,770 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia waters this year, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka.
The latest boat, with 32 people on board, was stopped early on Thursday, seven nautical miles off Christmas Island near Indonesia, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said in a statement. A boat with 22 passengers and two crew was intercepted Wednesday afternoon near Ashmore Island, off northwestern Australia, an earlier statement said.
Passengers of both boats are being taken to the Christmas Island detention center for health and security checks and to determine their reasons for travel, O'Connor said. The statements did not give the nationalities of the people on board.
The island, 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) northwest of the mainland, is an Australian territory where it detains asylum seekers who arrive illegally by boat. The 250-bed detention facility there is nearly full and the government recently ordered more bunk beds and temporary housing.
The mounting arrivals have intensified criticism of current immigration policies.
The opposition contends that people smugglers are increasingly aiming for Australia after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last year relaxed tough regulations introduced by his predecessor John Howard, including mandatory detention of asylum seekers on arrival and barring their families from joining them.
"The prime minister says the changes to domestic policy have had absolutely no impact on the arrivals," opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull told Parliament on Thursday. "But the prime minister's policy has comprehensively failed."
The government says those arriving by boat are fleeing violence and instability in their home countries. This year it has allotted 65 million Australian dollars ($52 million) for more ships, aircraft and people to patrol the waters. It is working closely with Malaysia and Indonesia, where most of the boats embark from, to stop them coming to Australia.
Last week, Indonesia stopped a boat carrying more than 250 Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Its occupants have so far refused to leave the boat, demanding asylum in a Western country.