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Refugee deal with Malaysia to stop people smuggling: Australian PM

07-25-2011 19:26 BJT

CANBERRA, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Australia and Malaysia on Monday officially signed an asylum seeker swap deal; Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the deal would "smash the people smugglers' business model."

The swap deal, first announced by Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen nearly three months ago, means Australia will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and accept 4,000 verified refugees in return.

The deal was signed by Bowen and Malaysian home minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein at a formal ceremony in Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia on Monday.

Gillard, who is in Canberra of Australia to announce the details of the deal, said it is designed to sends a very clear signal that Malaysia and Australia are serious about stopping people smuggling.

"This is a ground-breaking agreement which is designed to smash the business model of people smugglers," she told reporters in Canberra of Australia on Monday.

"My message to anyone who is considering paying money to a people smuggler and risking their life at sea and perhaps the lives of their family members as well, is do not do that in the false hope that you will be able to have your claim processed in Australia."

With refugee activists earlier warned that asylum seekers faced caning and other rights abuses in Malaysia, Gillard on Monday reaffirmed Malaysia's commitment that asylum seekers would be treated with dignity and respect in accordance with human rights standards.

She said following initial processing, asylum seekers sent from Australia to Malaysia will be moved into the community, with work rights, access to education and health care.

Australia will pay for all costs, around 300 million U.S. dollars over four years, including transport, welfare, health and education.

Also, asylum seekers who arrived in Australia before Monday will not be transferred to Malaysia. They will continue to be processed on Christmas Island.

In a statement, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) "noted" the agreement between Australia and Malaysia, saying its preference had always been an arrangement which would enable all asylum seekers arriving by boat into Australian territory to be processed in Australia.

It said the agreement did contain important safeguards like the right of asylum, the principle of family unity and best interests of the child and access to health care and work.

Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop said the Malaysia deal was the latest in a series of broken promises and backflips from the federal government.

She said Gillard had promised no asylum seekers would be sent to countries that were not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention.

Meanwhile, the Australian Greens criticized the deal, saying that it is still very unclear as to what type of protection will be offered to these people that will be expelled to Malaysia.

The Greens said the deal will shirk Australian government's responsibilities to help some of the world's most vulnerable people.

Since the announcement of the deal, the number of boats arriving in Australia has decreased to 500, compared with 1,700 from the same period last year.


Editor:Zhang Dan |Source: Xinhua

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