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Swap deal with Malaysia signed
Australian Associated Press - July 25, 2011
Under the plan Australia will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 genuine refugees, whose cases have been verified by the United Nations refugee agency. The move increases Australia's overall annual humanitarian intake to 14,750 places.
The Gillard government said the agreement reaffirmed Malaysia's commitment that asylum seekers would be treated with dignity and respect in accordance with human rights standards.
Following initial processing, asylum seekers will be moved into the community, with work rights, access to education and health care, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement. Transferred asylum seekers will receive no preferential treatment in the processing of their claims.
The government says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been closely consulted on the transfer arrangement.
Asylum seekers who arrived in Australia before today will not be transferred to Malaysia. They will continue to be processed on Christmas Island.
Ms Gillard said the deal was a "true burden-sharing" arrangement. In Kuala Lumpur, Mr Bowen said the deal "sends a very clear signal that Malaysia and Australia are serious about stopping people smuggling".
"As Immigration Minister I hope I never get another call telling me that people have drowned trying to make it to Australia and that children as young as two-months old have drowned trying to come to Australia," he said following the signing.
"This arrangement we've signed today is very clear indication of our commitment. Today is not the end of the road. In many senses today is just the beginning. The people who doubted our resolve to get this arrangement this far will test our resolve further. People smugglers will test our resolve further."
Ms Gillard promised the asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia would be treated with dignity and respect.
"They will not be subject to any of the penalties imposed on illegal entrants," she said. "They will not be arrested and not be caned." They would be allowed to live in the community, work and have access to education and health care.
Ms Gillard said an oversight committee, which would include representatives from UNHCR and officials from both countries, would monitor the welfare of asylum seekers. Ms Gillard promised the asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia would be treated with dignity and respect.
Ms Gillard said "appropriate measures" would be taken to ensure asylum seekers boarded and disembarked from aircraft that take them to Malaysia.
"We will be looking for people to abide by instructions. If it's not the case then appropriate measures will be taken to ensure we deliver on this agreement."
Ms Gillard stopped short of saying authorities would use force. "Obviously they include an appropriate use of moving people if they need to be moved around other than by their own steam," she said.
Ms Gillard said 500 asylum seekers who arrived since May 7, when she first announced the deal, would now be processed in Australia because the government had not yet been able to finalise a deal with Papua New Guinea. PNG is experiencing political instability following the resignation of chief minister Sir Michael Somare.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the deal was "an admission of failure".
"Today the government has been forced to back down," he told reporters in Sydney. "This is a one-off bilateral deal with a use-by date."The asylum seekers sent to Malaysia would get a "second bite of the cherry", he said.
Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop said the deal was the latest in a series of broken promises and backflips from the government. She said Ms Gillard had promised no asylum seekers would be sent to countries that were not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.
It was also "deeply worrying" that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was not involved in the negotiations.