Refugee swap deal with Malaysia could be extended: Australian Immigration Minister

13:18, July 26, 2011      

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Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Tuesday said the government's asylum seeker deal with Malaysia could be extended once the first 800 positions are filled.

The swap deal, first announced nearly three months ago and officially signed on Monday, means Australia will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and accept 4,000 verified refugees in return.

The deal was originally priced at a cost of around 300 million U.S. dollars paid by the Australian federal government, but Bowen said it was possible that figure could rise.

"My Malaysian counterpart, (home minister) Hishammuddin ( Hussein), has made it clear he regards this as a pilot project, and if it works and is successful, then they will examine potential extensions, and that is completely consistent with my point of view," Bowen told ABC Radio AM on Tuesday

Bowen said the deal will reduce the number of boats arriving in Australia and "smash" the trade of people smugglers.

"I'm confident it will have a big impact on people's decision to risk their lives, jump on a boat, pay the money to the people smugglers just to face the prospect of being returned to Malaysia, " he said.

"So I think it will have a very big impact. I think it will pull the rug from out of the people smuggler's advertising model.

"I think it's saying to people that Australia will resettle more genuine refugees who've been waiting for resettlement.

"At the same time you have to nothing to achieve by getting on a boat."

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has refused to rule out sending pregnant women and unaccompanied children to Malaysia under an asylum-seeker swap deal she said is designed to smash the business model of people smugglers.

Gillard said while exceptional circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis, no one should think they would be disqualified from being sent to Malaysia.

"There is no blanket exemption," Gillard told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

"There will be an assessment process here and we have through this agreement worked to have special levels of support available to people who might have particular issues in Malaysia, but there are no blanket exemptions."

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