Extra police at Australian detention center in case of unrest

13:23, May 09, 2011      

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The number of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has been significantly boosted on Christmas Island detention center, as immigration officials prepare for the possible transfer of asylum-seekers from Australia to Malaysia, official said on Monday.

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.

On March 17, tension was built at the Christmas Island immigration detention center, where protesters rioted and burned tents in a four-hour battle with police. The number of additional police on the island has therefore jumped from 46 last month to 79.

On Saturday, the AFP flew an extra 27 officers to the island amid concerns that Gillard's announcement of a proposed asylum- seeker swap with Malaysia could arouse unrest at the center. There are now 108 federal police officers on Christmas Island.

According to a spokeswoman for Christmas Island center, three senior immigration officials also flew to the island on Saturday to help with "implementation of the new arrangements", including the first transfer of asylum-seekers to detention in Malaysia.

She told The Australia newspaper on Monday that those officials will explain to staff how the deal will affect future arrivals, including whether eligible asylum-seekers will stay on Christmas Island for health checks before being transferred to Malaysia by plane.

The Federal Opposition has intensified its attack on the government's asylum seeker deal with Malaysia on Monday, calling it "panicked, desperate thought bubble" that has not been properly thought through.

"Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations (UN) convention. If Nauru was not acceptable because it's not a signatory to the UN convention how can Malaysia be acceptable now? " Opposition Leader Abbott told ABC News.

However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR) said the agency had a "generally positive" view of the proposal.

Source: Xinhua
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