Australia, Malaysia refugee agreement an important first step: Australian Deputy PM

14:20, May 08, 2011      

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Australia's recent agreement with Malaysian is a very important first step in dealing with asylum seekers in what is a regional problem, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said on Sunday.

On Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Australia is close to signing a bilateral agreement which would see 800 people who tried to get to Australia by boat taken immediately to Malaysia to have their claims processed in Malaysia by the United Nations.

In return Australia has agreed to take 4,000 genuine refugees who have had their claims assessed in Malaysia.

The agreement is yet to be formalized, and Gillard said the 800 asylum seekers to be processed in Malaysia will be those who arrive after the agreement has been signed.

"This will send a really clear message to the people smugglers and to all of those in the pipeline - if they get on a boat, they could be at the end of a very, very long queue in Malaysia," Swan was quoted by the Nine Network on Sunday.

"There is no certainty anymore that they will be here and processed."

He admitted there was "no magic bullet" to what is a regional problem, but the Malaysia deal was a very important step to finding a regional solution.

However, Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has questioned why Australia is sending 800 people to Malaysia but accepting 4,000.

Morrison said the government's move is hypocritical.

"They're going to send people to a country that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, yet refused to deal with Nauru on that same basis," he said.

Meanwhile, the Australian federal government is also working with other nations including Papua New Guinea on a possible regional processing center.

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