Race to block asylum seekers

File picture

Customs officials were last night racing to intercept an asylum-seeker vessel - the first in Australian waters in more than a month.

_The West Australian _ understands Border Protection Command spotted the boat in remote waters between Java and Ashmore Reef yesterday and sent a patrol boat to pick it up.

It was unclear if Customs would take the boat under escort to Australia or try to turn it back to Indonesia.

Since winning power, the coalition has thrown a veil of secrecy over its border protection efforts.

Though the Government says there has not been a single successful asylum voyage to Australia since December, it has refused to give details of how many boats have come to Australian waters but then been turned back or towed back to Indonesia.

There have been six instances in recent months of asylum seekers arriving back in Indonesia aboard big orange lifeboats, claiming they were bundled aboard the boats and pushed back by the Royal Australian Navy.

The Government has confirmed it bought lifeboats for border security operations, but has refused to say what they are specifically for.

The coalition's clandestine policy of pushing asylum boats back to Indonesia has infuriated Jakarta and led to Australian navy vessels accidentally entering Indonesian waters.

This week it was revealed that the Cambodian Government had agreed "in principle" to house asylum seekers intercepted by Australia.

The plan has been condemned by rights groups and international experts who say Cambodia has a terrible record of human rights.

Under the Government's policies, all asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters are sent to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or the small Pacific nation of Nauru.

Lawyers for detainees on Manus Island this week filed an urgent application for protection for a group of asylum seekers who say they witnessed the death of Iranian Kurd Reza Berati.

Mr Berati was beaten to death during riots at the centre in February when local police and villagers stormed the centre.