A group of three islands lying approximately 320 kilometres off the north-west coast of Australia. Although the islands are located 144 kilometres south-east of the Indonesian island of Roti, they are part of an Australian territory known as Ashmore and Cartier Islands.
In 1983, Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve (583 sq km) was established under National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 due to its abundance of seabirds, dugongs, beche de mer and other tasty yet endangered marine life. Access to the east and middle islands (which constitute the major seabird breeding areas) is by permit only. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Australia and Indonesia in 1974, Indonesian traditional fishermen are allowed access to the lagoon and the fresh water supply on the western island.
With the advent of organised people smuggling, Ashmore Reef has become the first port of call for asylum seekers due to its proximity to Indonesia. Recent Australian Government policy has attempted to set the three islands outside of Australia's "migration zone" so that migrants who land on the reef will be barred from seeking asylum, irrespective of the legitimacy of their claims. Despite the relatively small number of claimants in terms of global standards, the current Australian Government has been reticent to act as good global citizens, to say the least.