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Australia boatpeople set to bypass Malaysia laws

09 june 2011, 13:31
0
Chris Bowen. ©Reuters
Chris Bowen. ©Reuters
The 800 boatpeople Australia plans to send to Malaysia will be granted immunity from the country's harsh immigration laws, eliminating the threat of caning, AFP reports Thursday.

Rather than being sent to existing detention camps, they will spend six weeks in a new Australian-funded holding centre before being issued identity tags and released into the community, News Limited newspapers said.

This will allow them to avoid being treated as illegal immigrants under Malaysian law, which will protect them from the possibility of caning and other punishments.

The Australian and the Sydney Daily Telegraph, citing unnamed sources, said the exemption would be granted through a seldom-used local law.

The reports said the compromise had been secured by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, although he was not prepared to elaborate on Thursday.

"I'm not going to comment in detail on that sort of speculation other than to say the government has said consistently that there would be appropriate standards in place for people transferred from Australia to Malaysia," he told ABC radio.

"It's very important we send the message that the people smugglers' business model is broken, that you cannot come to Australia by boat and expect processing and resettlement in Australia.

"It's also appropriate that while doing that you have appropriate standards in place to ensure that people are appropriately dealt with in Malaysia."

Bowen said Kuala Lumpur had been responsive to that demand.

Canberra is in advanced discussions with Malaysia on a plan to send 800 asylum seekers there in exchange for accepting some 4,000 of the Southeast Asian nation's already registered refugees.

But there has been widespread concern that the group going to Malaysia could be mistreated with the country not a signatory to the UN refugees convention.

Despite the controversy, Bowen signalled that if all went well Malaysia may take more than the 800 boatpeople in the initial proposal.

"The Malaysian government have said themselves that if the arrangement works they would be happy to look at extending it further," he said.

The minister, though, would not say when the deal would be finalised.

"Discussions are well advanced with Malaysia... and of course in close consultation with the UNHCR," he said.

"I'm not going to outline an artificial timetable, other than to say I’m very satisfied with where negotiations are at and they are very well advanced."

Asylum seekers are a sensitive issue in Australia, where a record 6,900 illegal immigrants arrived by boat in 2010, mostly on vessels from Indonesia and usually hailing from strife-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, or Sri Lanka.

They face mandatory detention in facilities that are filled to capacity.

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