Australian PM says refugee deal with Malaysia still on track

16:22, May 19, 2011      

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday said a deal with Malaysia over processing asylum seekers is still on track.

Under a deal announced on May 7, up to 800 new boat arrivals will be relocated to Malaysia for processing, in return for Australia resettling 4,000 Malaysian refugees.

Since the announcement, more than 100 asylum seekers have been intercepted in Australian waters, and the government said they will all be processed overseas, even though it has not finalized the deal with Malaysia.

However, earlier on Thursday, a Malaysian newspaper has quoted Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein as saying that Malaysia will only accept asylum seekers who arrive in Australia after the agreement is finalized.

"On reports that a boatload of 32 asylum seekers temporarily housed at Christmas Island before being sent to countries such as Malaysia or Papua New Guinea where their refugee applications would be processed, Hishammuddin said the batch was not part of the transaction as the deal had not been finalized," the Malaysia Star reported.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has brushed off reports, maintaining that Australia is still negotiating with Malaysia about what will happen to asylum seekers who arrive in Australia before the two countries finalize their refugee swap deal.

Bowen said the federal government is also negotiating with Papua New Guinea about the resettlement of the latest arrival of asylum seekers.

Source: Xinhua
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