26 Jul 2011

Australian PM defends asylum deal

9:39 am on 26 July 2011

Australia's Prime Minister has defended an asylum seeker swap deal signed with Malaysia.

Under the arrangement, which came into effect at midnight on Monday, 800 asylum seekers who try to get to Australia by boat will be transferred to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 verified refugees, over a four year period.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the deal is designed to send a message that asylum seekers should not risk their lives in the hope of having their claims processed in Australia.

Those sent to Malaysia will be given rights to work, health care and education, unlike the 90,000 refugees already there, the ABC reports.

Ms Gillard said they would be treated in accordance with human rights, and described the deal as tough but fair.

"The persons transferred to Malaysia will not get preferential processing, they will take their place alongside these 90,000 asylum seekers and they will wait their turn," she said.

Arrivals will be subject to pre-transfer assessments to ensure fitness and suitability for transfer.

But the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson QC, says the safeguards contained in the agreement kick in too late, and she doubts their effectiveness.

Ms Branson told the ABC she is particularly worried that people will be assessed for vulnerability only after they have been sent to Malaysia.