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Malaysia vows to improve treatment of refugee under refugee swap deal: Australian official

(Xinhua)

09:08, August 16, 2011

CANBERRA, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Monday night said that assurances Malaysia would improve its treatment of asylum seekers was a crucial factor behind the government's people-swap deal.

Bowen said after eight months of discussions with Malaysian officials, he formed a view the country had made a "significant conceptual shift" about its treatment of asylum seekers.

"The understanding that I formed from my conversations with the Minister of Home Affairs and other Malaysian officials was that the Malaysian government was keen to improve its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers," he said in a statement, adding that Malaysia had begun to improve the protections offered to refugees and asylum seekers and was also considering granting asylum seekers work rights.

He had also taken advice from his department which "reassured that Malaysia did provide basic support and protection to asylum seekers."

Bowen also said he had met with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials and understood the refugee agency considered the arrangement had benefits and would be workable, before deciding to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.

The government's controversial people-swap deal was put on hold last week, after refugee lawyers convinced the High Court to order an injunction against the first deportations of 16 asylum seekers, citing concerns of human rights and refugee treatment in Malaysia.

The full bench of the High Court will hear the case next week before making a ruling as to whether the government's proposal is lawful.

Under the federal government's people swap deal, Australia will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

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