Thailand looking at Australian asylum seeker swap

Gillard reiterates that new boat people will not be processed in Australia.

Sydney: Thailand is interested in an asylum seeker deal similar to the one Canberra plans with Malaysia as Prime Minister Julia Gillard reiterated on Sunday that new boat people will not be processed in Australia.

A week ago, Australia announced alterations to its immigration policy designed to break people-smuggling and stem the flood of boats carrying asylum seekers to its shores.

Under the changes, Australia has proposed sending 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing and in return it will accept 4,000 people already assessed by the latter to be refugees for resettlement over four years.

Despite the Malaysia plan sparking criticism that Australia is returning to a disputed policy of banishing boat people to poor neighbours, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said his country would be interested in a similar deal.

"The agreement between Australia and Malaysia on this particular model based on, I think, five to one ratio is something that the rest of us will be interested to look at," he said.

Speaking at a press conference late Saturday after talks in Bangkok with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd, Piromya said many countries were looking for a systematic way to deal with an influx of asylum seekers.

"The Australian-Malaysian likely agreement would provide some sort of certainty and also a model for others to study," said Piromya in a transcript supplied by Rudd`s office.

"The whole issue could be discussed further by all the other countries involved."

Many of the refugees Australia is set to take from Malaysia are from Myanmar, and travelled via Thailand.

Australia is also in negotiations with its impoverished northern neighbour Papua New Guinea on opening an immigration processing centre, but no deal has yet been finalised.

Gillard said the message to asylum seekers was crystal clear.

"Don`t come to Australia expecting to be processed because you won`t be," she told ABC Television.

More than 7,800 boat people have arrived in Australian waters since the beginning of 2010, with the first vessel since the Malaysia swap was announced being intercepted on Friday.

The 32 people on board were taken to Christmas Island, the remote Indian Ocean territory where boat people are normally detained until their claims can be assessed, for identity checks.

Gillard made clear they would then be sent elsewhere.

"We will hold them until we can remove them," she said.

Bureau Report

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