Monday 25 July 2011

Australia pays but Malaysia has final say on which asylum-seekers it accepts under swap deal

Malaysia protestBowen signing
Human rights protesters in Kuala Lumpur gather outside the signing of Australia's asylum-seeker swap deal with Malaysia. Picture: AP Source: AP
Chris Bowen and Malaysia's Home Minister Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein shake hands on the     asylum-seeker swap deal. Picture: Getty Images Source: Getty Images

Australian taxpayers will foot the entire bill for the Malaysian refugee swap, including the cost of health, education, transport and asylum-seeker processing costs.

Nearly 570 asylum-seekers not covered by the deal - signed in Kuala Lumpur today - will be processed in Australia after they were excluded from the agreement.

The deal to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in return for 4000 certified refugees comes into effect from midnight tonight.

Julia Gillard said the deal would “smash the business model of people-smugglers”.

But opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the deal was “an admission of failure”.“This is a one-off bilateral deal with a use-by date,” he said.

Malaysia will have the final say over which asylum-seekers it accepts under the deal, but won't pay for any of the costs. Asylum-seekers refusing to board flights to Malaysia or disembark at their destination would face being manhandled by Australian Federal Police.

“We will be looking for people to abide by instructions,” the Prime Minister said.

“If it's not the case then appropriate measures will be taken to ensure we deliver on this agreement.”

The cost of the deal has been budgeted at $300 million, including $76 million in transfer costs.

Australia will foot the bill for transport, interpreting, health, welfare and education costs.

It will also pay for refugee determinations, re-settlement of bona fide refugees and deportation of failed asylum seekers to their countries of origin.

Ms Gillard said asylum-seekers sent to Malaysia would be treated humanely and would not be sent back to the country from which they had fled.

“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.”

Under the deal, asylum-seekers will be considered “lawful” in Malaysia and moved into the community after initial accommodation in a Malaysian transit centre.

They will receive no preferential treatment over other asylum-seekers in Australia in terms of processing or resettlement.

Asylum-seekers arriving by boat from midnight tonight will face being sent to Malaysia within 72 hours, after fitness tests and biometric identity checks by Australian authorities.

To be eligible for resettlement in Australia under the deal, asylum-seekers must be registered in Malaysia by midnight tonight.

The government had pledged to process all asylum-seekers arriving after May 7 in a third country. But Malaysia refused to make the agreement retrospective and a hoped-for deal with Papua New Guinea has stalled.

A total of 568 asylum-seekers have arrived by boat since May 7.

The UNHCR said it would have preferred Australia to deal with its own asylum seeker arrivals.

“UNHCR's preference has always been an arrangement which would enable all asylum-seekers arriving by boat into Australian territory to be processed in Australia. This would be consistent with general practice,” it said in a statement.

It said the “critical test” would be in the agreement's implementation, particularly its protection and vulnerability assessment procedures.

As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen signed the deal in Kuala Lumpur with Home Minister Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, protesters gathered outside complaining of Malaysia's treatment of asylum-seekers.

Protesters' placards included one which said: “We arrest, we detain, we whip, we deport”.

Malaysia will have complete control over the asylum-seekers they accept onto their soil. Anyone “not provided consent” will be ineligible to be transferred.

The Greens attacked the deal, saying it allowed the government to shirk its responsibilities to help some of the world's most vulnerable people.

“This deal is still very unclear as to what type of protection will be offered to these people that we expel to Malaysia,” South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told reporters.

“The whole idea of the Australia-Malaysia agreement is trading in the lives of very vulnerable people and it is about the Australian government shirking its international responsibilities.”

Author | Source | Ben Packman |  The Australian | July 25th

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