Four Vietnamese people found near Broome as Australia’s asylum boat policy under strain

<span>Broome from the air. Four Vietnamese people have been found near the Western Australian town after arriving there by boat.</span><span>Photograph: Kim Christian/AAP</span>
Broome from the air. Four Vietnamese people have been found near the Western Australian town after arriving there by boat.Photograph: Kim Christian/AAP

Australia’s policy of deterrence against asylum seeker boats is under strain, with three boat arrivals in the last week including four people found near Broome.

In addition to five Rwandans who arrived on Saibai Island and 33 people who landed on Christmas Island, Guardian Australia can reveal that four Vietnamese “unauthorised maritime arrivals” arrived near Broome on Friday morning. The group was intercepted just offshore.

The Saibai Island group has now been returned to Papua New Guinea by charter flight.

The ABC first reported, and Guardian Australia has independently confirmed, that 33 people were found on Christmas Island on Thursday morning. Their boat was destroyed by bad weather.

On Monday a government spokesperson declined to say if the group of 33 had been taken to Nauru. They are no longer on Christmas Island.

An Australian Border Force spokesperson said: “The Australian Border Force does not confirm or comment on operational matters.”

On Saturday the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was asked about the Christmas Island arrivals and whether Tuesday’s budget will contain more funding for the ABF.

“We have record funding for Border Force in place now, which is why we’ve been able to ensure that anyone who arrives in such a fashion is not settled in Australia,” he told reporters in Launceston.

Related: Rwandans arrive in Australia after perilous journey to claim asylum

“Australian Border Force have dealt with all of these issues expeditiously in a way that is consistent with Australia’s public policy of strong border protection.”

Australia has a set of harsh border policies designed to deter dangerous boat journeys, including by people seeking asylum.

Non-citizens who arrive by sea without lawful permission to enter Australia are categorised as “unauthorised maritime arrivals” and are never allowed to settle in Australia, even if they are determined to be owed protection under refugee conventions.

Instead, they can be sent to offshore detention on the Pacific nation of Nauru and indefinitely detained until they agree to return home or are resettled in third countries, as part of a program known as Operation Sovereign Borders.

On Tuesday Guardian Australia revealed the arrival of five men on Saibai Island, 4km from the Papua New Guinea mainland in the strait off Cape York in Australia’s north-east. The group has claimed asylum in Australia.

On Monday Guardian Australia confirmed they have now returned to PNG.

It is unclear whether they will stay there permanently, or how Australia can guarantee that the men will not be returned to a country where they face persecution.

The shadow home affairs minister, James Paterson, said the four Broome arrivals “represent yet another shocking failure of border protection under the Albanese Labor government”.

“This is now the sixth boat that has breached our borders and reached Australian territory in the last six months, and the 17th attempted people smuggling venture to make the journey to Australia under the Albanese government,” he said in a statement.

In October Guardian Australia revealed that a group of 11 asylum seekers had been sent to Nauru, the first such transfer in nine years.

People smuggling ventures reached Western Australia in November and February, resulting in further transfers to Nauru and heightened political criticism by the Coalition opposition against the Labor government’s handling of borders.

According to the latest published statistics from September 2013 to February 2024, 1,121 people have been returned to their country of departure or their country of origin as part of Operation Sovereign Borders, to Indonesia, Sri Lanka or Vietnam.

This has included at least 238 people returned in eight uses of controversial practices of taking back or turning back boats since Labor was elected in May 2022.

There were no ventures turned or taken back in the period July 2023 to 29 February 2024.