Two journalists arrive with asylum seekers

The scale of the Coalition’s border protection challenge has been underlined by the arrival of three asylum seeker boats in as many days, including one carrying a pair of foreign journalists on assignment.

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott yesterday spoke with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and assured him that the incoming Coalition government would stick with offshore processing on Manus Island.

The third of three vessels in three days was understood to be in Australian waters on Monday afternoon, following closely in the wake of a boat carrying 59 people that arrived earlier in the day and another carrying 88 people that arrived on election night.

Mr Abbott, who has previously pledged to ”salvage” elements of Labor’s PNG arrangements that are working well, spoke to Mr O’Neill and told him the Coalition meant to uphold Australia’s commitment to offshore processing on the PNG territory of Manus Island.

Mr O’Neill told PNG’s The National newspaper that he expected Mr Abbott to honour the arrangements agreed to with outgoing leader Kevin Rudd, but added he was open to a review of the deal.

”The resettlement program … and the infrastructure development program associated with this, negotiated and agreed to with the Rudd government, was done with the Australian government, not a political party or individual, and I would expect the incoming government to respect it,” the paper quoted him as saying.

The asylum seeker boat arriving on Monday morning included two New York Times journalists, who made the perilous passage from Indonesia to Christmas Island for an assignment.

Despite the frequent capsizing and sinking of the rickety Indonesian fishing boats used for the crossing, American journalist Luke Mogelson and Dutch photographer Joel van Houdt made the voyage to document asylum seekers’ experiences.

They arrived on Christmas Island reportedly sunburnt and exhausted. They were quizzed by Australian Federal Police but had valid visas and were promptly released. The men, both freelance contributors to the New York Times Magazine, are based in Kabul, Afghanistan, and are seasoned journalists in dangerous environments.

Van Houdt has previously carried out a similar assignment in the Mediterranean Sea, taking an asylum seeker boat from Morocco to Spain in 2008.

The Immigration Department’s communications chief Sandi Logan called the move ”crazy, risky” on Twitter.

The arrival of three boats in a row represents a spike by recent standards. The outgoing Labor government’s tough PNG and Nauru arrangements appeared to be stemming what had been a steady flow of boats, often two or more each day.

Just one boatload of asylum seekers arrived last week on Christmas Island.

Yesterday, Mr Abbott went on the front foot, warning people smugglers and their clients things would be ”very, very different in this country” under a Coalition government. Mr Abbott’s policy includes the controversial measure of turning back boats where it is safe to do so, and buying Indonesian fishing vessels if authorities believe they are going to be used to carry asylum seekers to Australia.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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