Malaysia agrees to take Australian asylum seekers

The agreement has been described as a "big blow" to people smugglers.

Updated: May 07, 2011, 16:42 PM IST

Sydney: Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Saturday that Malaysia has agreed to take hundreds of asylum seekers who land in Australia illegally, in a move described as a "big blow" to people smugglers.

Under the bilateral agreement, up to 800 boat people who try to reach Australia will be taken immediately to Malaysia instead, with their claims processed there by the United Nations.

In return, Australia has agreed to accept and resettle, over four years, 4,000 registered refugees currently living in Malaysia, Gillard and her Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak said in a joint statement.

"This landmark agreement will help take away the product people smugglers are trying to sell -- a ticket to Australia," said Gillard.

"The key message this will deliver to people smugglers and those seeking to make the dangerous sea voyage to Australia is: do not get on that boat.”

"Under this arrangement, if you arrive in Australian waters and are taken to Malaysia you will go to the back of the queue."

The agreement, which has been negotiated with the Malaysian government over the last seven months, is expected to be finalised in the coming weeks with Australia covering all the funding arrangements.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it would cost around AUD 300 million (USD 320 million) over four years.

The figure of 800 is a one-off total with no time limit attached.

Thousands of asylum seekers head to Australia each year, usually on rickety boats from Indonesia, swamping already overcrowded immigration centres and prompting recent violent unrest in the often remote units.

Gillard had previously suggested that a regional processing centre be established in East Timor, but the idea was coldly received in Dili.

On Friday, media reports said her administration was considering reopening Papua New Guinea`s mothballed Manus Island detention centre to asylum seekers.

Bureau Report