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Malaysia, Australia stand by refugee swap deal

By Thursday October 27th, 2011 No Comments

PERTH, Australia — Australia and Malaysia affirmed their commitment to a refugee swap deal Thursday despite a political stalemate in Canberra that has left it in limbo.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak met his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Perth to discuss the so-called “Malaysia Solution” agreed in May.

Under the plan Australia was to send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 of the Southeast Asian nation’s registered refugees in what was intended to be a deterrent to people-smugglers.

But the swap was shelved this month after the High Court struck it down and opposition lawmakers refused to back legal amendments to allow it to proceed.

A spokeswoman for Gillard said the two leaders had “agreed on the importance of regional solutions to the challenge of irregular migration”.

“Both prime ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the Malaysia-Australia transfer agreement as an innovative and effective approach to combatting people smuggling,” the spokeswoman said.

Although the High Court rejected the deal, Gillard believes it could still be revived if opposition lawmakers agree to migration law amendments, which would then have to pass the left-leaning Greens-dominated upper house.

Such an outcome is seen as unlikely, and Canberra has committed to accepting the 4,000 refugees from Malaysia regardless of whether the deal proceeds.

Najib had earlier warned that international cooperation was the only way to combat the region’s people-smuggling problems and refused to back down on his deal with Australia.

“Merely announcing that the arrangement was being discussed contributed to a 50 percent fall in the number of boatpeople heading to Australia in the first half of this year,” he wrote in an editorial for Australian newspapers.

“I believe that, once up and running, it would have had a serious impact on the exploitative actions of people smugglers.”

The Malaysian premier said it would be “easy to give up, to tell ourselves that we tried but the problem was too big, too politically difficult to deal with”.

“The people-smuggling would go on, the boats would continue to sail. Heartless traffickers would continue to take everything from desperate people — their money, their dignity and, all too often, their lives,” he said.

Najib said Malaysia would continue to work with Australia and other nations “to find new ways of stopping the traffickers for good”.

Despite arriving in relatively small numbers by global standards asylum-seekers are a thorny political issue in Australia and it has a mandatory detention policy for refugees arriving by boat.

Source : AFP

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