Malaysia will accept 800 asylum
seekers who entered Australia illegally by sea in a groundbreaking
deal between the two countries to tackle people smuggling.
In return, Australia will resettle 4,000 registered refugees
living in Malaysia, according to a joint government statement late
Saturday. The political opposition in Australia slammed the plan.
Australia has long attracted people from poor, often war-ravaged
countries hoping to start a new life, with more than 6,200 asylum
seekers arriving in the country by boat last year. Most are from
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq, and use Malaysia or Indonesia
as a starting point for a dangerous sea journey to Australia.
"This landmark agreement will help take away the product people
smugglers are trying to sell - a ticket to Australia," Australian
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a separate statement.
"The key message this will deliver to people smugglers and those
seeking to make the dangerous sea voyag to Australia is: do not get
on that boat," she said. "Under this arrangement, if you arrive in
Australian waters and are taken to Malaysia, you will go to the back
of the queue."
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said the agreement is
beneficial to both countries and strongly signals that his ow
nation shouldn't be used as a transit point.
Australia will fully fund the arrangement, the joint statement
said, adding that the one-off pilot project aims to "undermine the
business model of transnational criminal syndicates, particularly in
people smuggling and human trafficking in this region."
The 800 people transferred to Malaysia will have their claims
processed by the United Nations, and "those in need of
international protection will not be refouled," the statement said.
Both countries will work closely with the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees and the International Organization for Migrtion to
implement the arrangement, which will be finalized soon, it said.
Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott said the agreement may
be good for Malaysia but was "lousy" for Australia.
"This idea that they will take one and we will take five just
risks Malaysia becoming the open back door to Astralia," he said.
Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said it showed the
government has no consistent policy on border protection.
"When I first heard about it, I thought kids in the school yard
would do a better trading deal than this, but this is trading human
beings," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Gillard said the Australian government was engaged in talks with
Papua Guinea to build a regional detention center there to process
asylum seekers, and that it would be funded by Australia. An earlier
proposal to set up such a center in neighboring East Timor was not
favored by that country's government.
Since early 2010, Australia has intercepted more than 140 boats
carrying asylum seekers. Malaysia has also caught dozens of people
embarking on rickety and overcrowded boats to Australia.
The increasing numbers of boat arrivals has become a divisive
issue in Australia, with the opposition demanding stricter laws to
deter would-be illegal immigrants.