The teenager's eyes light up when she talks about her dream of traveling to Australia. Nyein Su Wai wants to see the "interesting animals" _ koalas and kangaroos _ but says she would be happiest about living without the constant fear that she endures as a refugee in Malaysia.
She could become one of the winners in a swap deal that would send 4,000 refugees from Malaysia to Australia. The losers would be 800 asylum seekers who would travel the other way, with assurances that they would be treated better than the more than 93,000 registered refugees, mostly from Myanmar, who eke out a precarious existence on the fringe of Malaysian society and law.
In Malaysia, Su Wai and her family constantly fear detention or worse, deportation.
"I think Australia will be a good place for me," the friendly, gangly 14-year-old told The Associated Press in a modest school for refugee children from Myanmar run without state help in suburban Puchong, outside Malaysia's largest city, Kuala Lumpur.
Australia and Malaysia continue to negotiate terms of the deal, which springs from Australia's strong desire to deter asylum seekers from coming there by boat.
Critics say wealthy Australia is shirking its international responsibilities by shunting asylum seekers off to a developing nation with a tarnished human rights record that has not signed U.N. conventions on refugees and torture. Australia maintains that the deal will protect the asylum seekers' rights.
Sri Lankan-born Ramesh Fernandez, who spent three years in remote Australian immigration detention camps before he was accepted as a refugee, has another criticism of the deal: He doesn't believe it will discourage anyone from making desperate boat journeys like the one he made in 2001.
"People know that Australia has human rights obligations and they don't want to go to Malaysia because Malaysia has problems and there are refugees who have been there for a long time," said Fernandez, a director of a refugee help center in Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city.
Rights advocates say refugees in Malaysia face beatings, overcrowding, insufficient food and poor sanitation. They usually survive on odd jobs but risk detention and whippings with the dreaded rattan cane for doing so because in the twilight world that they inhabit they are officially not allowed to work or have access to state education.
Kyaw Zin Latt, a 30-year-old who fled Myanmar for Malaysia in 2008 when soldiers burned his village, claims police and the government's volunteer security corps routinely harass refugees on the streets, demanding that they hand over their money and valuables in exchange for not being detained.
Latt said he was arrested a year ago while working as a restaurant dishwasher. He said he spent two nights with 15 others in a cell meant for three, sleeping on a cold cement floor while stripped to his underwear by police, before aid workers secured his release.
Su Wai, her parents and two sisters have for three years shared a single bedroom in a rented apartment that they share with other refugees on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Her father is a handyman and her mother works illegally in an electronics factory.
Recently, the family cowered in their room for hours before dawn, afraid to look out their window because police were searching for illegal immigrants in their neighborhood.
Su Wai vividly recalls fleeing the military junta in Myanmar in search of a brighter future and walking for miles through jungles and sugar cane plantations to cross into Thailand. She hid under a blanket in a van as people smugglers brought them into Malaysia.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHRC registered Su Wai and her family as refugees, but they are still regarded as illegal immigrants by Malaysia.
Australia's government, meanwhile, is suffering in public opinion polls because of asylum seekers who are being smuggled from transit points in Malaysia and Indonesia by boat.
The numbers are small by international standards but they're growing, to the chagrin of many Australians who prize their relative isolation as a country that borders nothing but ocean. Refugees are targeted in complaints of overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure in Australia's largest cities.
The refugee swap is expected to cost Australia 300 million Australian dollars ($320 million) over four years and Malaysia nothing.
While the details have not been finalized, asylum seekers brought into Malaysia will need to be treated better than refugees already there for the deal to be acceptable from Australia's perspective. To that extent, the asylum seekers who reached Australia would still be rewarded for it.
Australia promises that refugees who are taken to Malaysia will be spared the cane, and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has confirmed that asylum seekers deported from Australia will not be treated as illegal immigrants. They will be placed in a special category that will safeguard them from the brutal treatment other refugees complain of.
Bowen insists that none of the more than 250 asylum seekers who have been intercepted in Australian waters since the in-principle deal with Malaysia was announced on May 7 will be accepted by Australia. They will be sent to Malaysia or another country.
Several countries in the region appear interested in striking a similar agreement.
Australia is negotiating with impoverished Papua New Guinea to open an immigration detention camp there but has rejected an offer to host asylum seekers from its South Pacific neighbor, the Solomon Islands, which teeters on becoming a failed state.
Malaysia's neighbor Thailand, which is also criticized for its treatment of Myanmar refugees, is paying close attention to the Australian deal. Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya described it last month as "something that the rest of us would be interested to look at."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Labor Party had been critical of sending asylum seekers to camps in other countries when the previous conservative government, led by Prime Minister John Howard, did it. On being elected in 2007, the Labor government shut down camps that they condemned as inhumane in Papua New Guinea and the tiny Pacific atoll of Nauru.
UNHRC is working with Australia and Malaysia on the deal in the hope of improving the lot of refugees in the region, including Malaysia.
"What we would like to see is for refugees to have the legal right to stay in the country, have access to livelihood and self-reliance, have access to education, support for vulnerable individuals and for there to be opportunities for long-term solutions for all refugees," said Yante Ismail, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Kuala Lumpur.
Refugees in Malaysia are hoping for the same things.
"We are in a difficult position here in Malaysia. We suffer a lot," said Moe Moe Khing, an official in a Myanmarese social assistance group. "We just want to be treated fairly as human beings ... with dignity, so we feel very happy about the Australian plan."
Associated Press writer McGuirk contributed to this report from Canberra, Australia.