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UN queue for front door still preferable to boat crossing

THE boats are being readied along Java's west coast to ferry thousands of fresh asylum seekers to Christmas Island.

But some among the potential customers are having second thoughts, prompted by Australia's toughened policies.

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Refugees waiting at the front door

Not all asylum seekers are hopping on illegal boats to get to Australia, some are taking note of Julia Gillard's 'get tough' message and wait patiently in the queue.

Mohamad Jawed, 17, is waiting with about 80 fellow Afghans in a hillside housing complex in Cisarua, about 90 minutes from Jakarta.

They are not waiting for a boat, but for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to pronounce them genuine and find them a refugee visa. In the language of Australia's politicians, they want to join the queue and enter through the front door.

The difference, they say, is ''the rule'' - people arriving without a visa after August 13, 2012, could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island.

''If the rule was not announced then maybe I'd have arrived two, three months ago, I would have arrived in Australia,'' Mohamad said. ''But because of that rule we are waiting. And not just me … there are a lot of people that are waiting for a visa.''


Before the rule was introduced he tried take a boat to Australia but says, ''I missed it''.

He says Labor's policies have been responsible for a steep drop-off in people making the trip from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Indonesia. Those with good reason to fear for their lives still come, but many don't.

''It's stopped - 50 per cent it's stopped, and people are not coming. They are not coming because of that rule.''

It worked, Mohamad said, because of the stories of people going crazy when sent to Nauru.

Waiting in Indonesia, though, is tortuous. A UNHCR place is reckoned to take three years - during which time they must often beg money from their families to support them in a country where they cannot work.

They were sent originally to be providers for those families, not a burden.

''The Australian government announced, 'Don't go by boat, every year we [will] send 1000 visas'. But we've seen nothing,'' says an older man, Muhammad Juma, who has waited for almost two years already, much of it in a shabby detention centre.

Many, though, are still taking the illegal route.

Last weekend two boats arrived on Christmas Island, one carrying 132 people. As the monsoon season ends and the sea grows calmer, sources say, people smugglers have 50 or more boats ready to sail.

Ashya Danesh has with him his wife, Golsaman, and two sons, Ammer, 16, and Mahdi, 12. Mr Danesh is tortured by his inability to support his family.

The boys cannot go to school in Indonesia and none of them is allowed to work.

''If UNHCR helps us and gives house, money, we stay [in Indonesia]. If not, we go by boat,'' Mr Danesh says.

Rosia - a rarity in that she's a middle-aged woman travelling alone - is also looking for a people smuggler, but does not know how to find one. ''I will go on a boat. It's difficult for me to stay here. We don't have any money. A long time we stayed here … no interview with UNHCR.'' Asked if she was worried about sinking, she smiles: ''I don't worry. It's in God's hands.''

No one Fairfax Media spoke to this week were familiar with the Opposition's policies, including the latest statements by its immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, that all boats from Sri Lanka would be intercepted by the navy in international waters and turned around. But they know enough to realise no Australian politician is their friend.

''I don't care about the election or things because when a rule is announced that will be followed by the government,'' Mohamad said.