CANBERRA, March 25 (Reuters) - A fishing boat carrying
nearly 100 asylum seekers capsized off Australia's west coast on
Monday, authorities said, turning the spotlight on the sensitive
issues of refugee policy and border protection ahead of a
general election in September.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said two people had died
and another 93 were rescued after the boat overturned north of
Christmas Island, midway between Australia and Indonesia.
Despite the fact Australia receives a small number of the
world's asylum seekers each year, asylum seekers and border
controls will be hot-button issues for voters later this year.
"This is a government that cannot control themselves, let
alone our borders. And with illegal boat arrivals in 2013
getting off to the fastest start on record, things only seem to
be getting worse," conservative opposition immigration spokesman
Scott Morrison said.
The sinking comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard re-shapes
her government following a botched leadership coup last week.
Polls put the conservatives on track to easily win the Sept.
14 ballot, boosted by a promise to boost border security.
The U.N. refugee agency said last week that Australia
received more than 16,000 claims for asylum in 2012, a 37
percent rise on the year before.
Refugees seeking asylum in Australia often set sail from
Indonesia or Sri Lanka, heading for Australia's Indian Ocean
territory of Christmas Island in dangerous and overcrowded
boats, with the help of people smugglers.
Since 2001, almost 1,000 people have died at sea while
attempting to reach Australia on overcrowded and often
unseaworthy refugee boats.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)