Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock leaves Sydney Friday bound for Europe and the Middle East in a bid to curb people smuggling rings he believes are behind the latest wave of illegal immigration.
Ruddock, who visited the Middle East on a similar mission a year ago, will hold talks with ministers and officials in Iran, Dubai, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to discuss what he believes to be a new problem.
The latest wave of boat-people are believed to be mostly Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian, often well-off economic refugees unlike the asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Iraq and Afghanistan who predominated among last year's 3,000 unauthorized arrivals.
He also believes the latest crop are being targeted by a network of multinational people smugglers marketing their services to fugitives who can could afford the high fares.
His warning coincided with the arrival in Australian territory of another Indonesian boat carrying 55 illegal immigrants. Officials say it was third boatload of asylum seekers to arrive in five days, bringing the total to 306.
In the last two weeks of last year, 781 people including 36 crew had been transferred from the boats to the mainland and handed over to immigration authorities.
Ruddock said he also planned to fly to Sweden, Switzerland and Britain to discuss the experiences of these countries in dealing with people smugglers and illegal arrivals.
"Many of these countries have suffered economic and social consequences from people smugglers operating within their borders to assist illegal immigrants bound for Australia," Ruddock said in a statement.
"The earlier visit was very successful in that I was able to establish agreement to share intelligence on people trafficking and start building relationships that will enable an international response to be developed for dealing with this world-wide problem.
"Governments are increasingly aware that they stand to gain by pooling their knowledge and resources to fight this insidious crime. This visit will add impetus to those processes." -- SYDNEY (AFP)
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