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Australian PM stands by asylum swap plan
Gillard says court-blocked deal to send asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for accepting refugees remains best answer.
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2011 08:57
Australia's government plans to revive its asylum swap plan despite the country's high court blocking the move [EPA

The Australian prime minister has said that her government will try to revive a plan to send asylum seekers to Malaysia as part of a refugee-swap deal which was recently rejected by the country's high court.

"Malaysia offered the best answer to the issue of asylum seekers and people smuggling them. It offers the best answer now," Julia Gillard told reporters at Australia's parliament on Monday.

Gillard also said that her minority government would try to amend the country's migration laws to overcome the high court ruling.

Gillard's centre-left Labor Party said the government intended to introduce the amending legislation into parliament next week.

The government was responding to a court ruling on August 31 that thwarted its plan to send asylum seekers to Malaysia in a policy aimed at deterring others from journeying to Australia by boat.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Dennis Shanahan, the political editor at The Australian, said, the high court found that because of Malaysia’s laws, the Australian government was unable to provide protection and care to people it intended to send to Malaysia.

It found that the Australian government would then have been breaching its own undertaking for the care of potential asylum seekers, said Shanahan.

"The other issue was the sending of minors direct to Malaysia. The judge ruled that he could not do that because he would be putting them at risk and he was in effect their guardian," he added.

Shanahan said Gillard, who leads a minority government, would need the support of the opposition to pass the legislation. Otherwise, he said, "the offshore processing programme will be finished".

People-smuggling business

Gillard was re-elected in August last year with a promise to send asylum seekers to a regional centre to consider asylum cases that Australia would build on East Timor.

East Timor did not agree to the plan, so Gillard turned her attention to Malaysia.

Under the deal with Malaysia, Australia agreed to accept 4,000 registered refugees in return for Malaysia processing the refugee applications of 800 asylum seekers.

Shanahan said the government's aim was to break the people-smuggling business by discouraging asylum seekers from trying to reach Australian territory by boat.
 
"The people smugglers would have to admit that they cannot guarantee that the people they sent on boats to Australian territory would be processed in Australia, and have a larger chance of ending up in Australia as a refugee," he said.

The government has indicated that Australia will honour the agreement by resettling those refugees it agreed to receive as part of the swap deal over four years.

Authorities believe the court ruling could trigger a surge in asylum seekers leaving Malaysian and Indonesian ports by boat bound for Australia.

The ruling also casts doubt over another proposal to send asylum seekers to a malaria-prone island off Papua New Guinea.

Source:
Agencies
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