Australia, Malaysia Sign Refugee Exchange Deal

Posted July 25th, 2011 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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Malaysia and Australia signed a controversial deal Monday to send 800 asylum seekers to the Southeast Asian nation in exchange for Australia resettling 4,000 processed refugees.

Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen signed the pact at a Kuala Lumpur hotel, while a small group of human rights activists protested outside.

The agreement is part of Canberra's push to develop a regional solution to people-smuggling. It is designed to deter asylum seekers in boats from making the dangerous sea journey to Australia.

Human rights groups have opposed the pact, because Malaysia has neither signed the U.N. Convention on Refugees nor ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture. Activists fear that asylum seekers could face lengthy waits to determine their status, as well as inhumane detention conditions and torture in the form of caning.

Australia has long been a destination for people from poor, often war-ravaged countries such as Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq, who used Malaysia and Indonesia as transit points for traveling to Australia.

Australia currently has more than 6,000 asylum seekers in detention.