Australian Opposition criticizes gov't's deal to swap refugee with Malaysia

14:44, May 10, 2011      

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Australian Opposition on Tuesday intensified its attack on the federal government's asylum seeker agreement with Malaysia, saying that the plan is appalling and will hemorrhage cash from Australia.

Under the plan, 800 asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat would be sent to Malaysian detention centers and, in return, Australia would accept 4,000 refugees from Malaysia. The agreement is not to be formalized yet.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that the deal will see Australia take five refugees for every one it sends away.

Abbott labeled the proposal as a "people-merry-go-round", and said the Labor government was out-bargained by Malaysia during negotiations on a proposed refugee swap, and the agreement with Malaysia is not in Australia's national interest.

"If we send 800 to Malaysia, we get 4,000 back and Malaysia becomes the backdoor route to Australia - the open backdoor to Australia and that's why this really is a lousy deal for our country," Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

Abbott said that stopping boats with asylum-seekers was the only way to test the policy.

The previous Howard government processed illegal boat arrivals on the island nation of Nauru, but the Labor government has previously ruled out the option, saying it was not suitable for processing refugees because it was not a signatory to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugee conventions.

"What works is Nauru, Manus (Island), temporary protection visas and the willingness to turn boats around where it's safe to do so,"he said.

"What I support is policies that work and we know what works because it did work in the past.

"We did have a problem, and (former prime minister) John Howard created a solution, (current Prime Minister) Julia Gillard and ( former prime minister) Kevin Rudd took a solution and turned it into a problem again," he added.

Meanwhile, the Greens, which the party will assume balance of power in the Senate from July 1, described the proposal as " appalling", saying it would lead to vulnerable people being dumped in a country with a poor human rights record.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young noted that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention, and she demanded the government release their advice showing the plan is legal.

Executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Center, David Manne, has also criticized the deal, saying detainees in the Malaysian camps are subject to arrest, whipping and deportation and have no access to work or welfare.

However, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen pledged to work with Malaysia and the United Nations to ensure the asylum seekers are treated fairly.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards also said the agency had a " generally positive" view of the proposal.

Source: Xinhua
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