Divisive issue

Asylum policy is an issue that divides Australians, with some supporting a more humanitarian approach and others wanting a tougher stance on border security.

The centre-left government of Kevin Rudd, the prime minister, softened immigration policy last July.

Since then, 14 boats carrying more than 400 asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka, have reached Australia's waters.

According to the country's border protection service, 162 asylum-seekers arrived by boat in 2008 and 148 in 2007. So far in 2009, there have been seven boat arrivals carrying more than 200 people.

The Rudd government has been defending its asylum policy for the past week, with critics saying last year's abolition of mandatory detention was encouraging more arrivals.