Australia's Department of Immigration is 'at breaking point' with asylum claims

THE Department of Immigration is so stretched trying to process the 4775 asylum-seekers believed detained across Australia that 17 other government departments have been asked to lend it workers to meet an "urgent and increasing demand" for staff.

The call for immediate assistance to cope with rising numbers of asylum-seekers came as West Australian Premier Colin Barnett accused the Gillard government of using the west as a "prison" to house almost half the illegal boat arrivals detained on the mainland.

The head of the Department of Immigration, Andrew Metcalfe, wrote an urgent letter to his counterparts last month across a raft of agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Defence, Human Services and even Medicare Australia, requesting additional assistance.

"Over the last year there has been an increase in the rate of arrivals and the number of staff required to meet this demand has increased proportionately," Mr Metcalfe said in a letter to the head of the Department of Agriculture.

"The department is approaching a point where we will not be able to meet this demand from existing and internal staff."

An Immigration Department spokesman said the plea for additional workers was "normal practice and a routine business operation".

He said the department was experiencing an increase in "intense labour activity" as a result of more asylum-seekers' claims being refused.

But the leaking of the letter also followed the release yesterday of figures obtained by the opposition which showed that - of the more than 6300 illegal boat arrivals in the two years to June - only 75 had been refused entry and returned home.

By yesterday afternoon that figure had risen to 98 boatpeople, but new Immigration Minister Chris Bowen agreed those numbers could be improved.

"Certainly I want those numbers to be higher," he said on Sky News's Agenda. "When we reject a claim for asylum, I would like people to return to their home country more quickly."


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