Australia furthers plans to expel asylum seekers

AP News
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Posted: Sep 12, 2011 2:58 AM
Australia furthers plans to expel asylum seekers

The Australian government wants to forge ahead with its policy of deporting asylum seekers to other countries to deter them from trying to reach Australia, despite its highest court scuttling a refugee swap deal with Malaysia.

The Malaysia deal was aimed at dissuading the migrants from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and other countries who undertake dangerous sea journeys, often in rickety boats, in their attempts to enter Australia illegally.

The plan would have involved Canberra accepting 4,000 registered refugees from Malaysia over four years in return for Malaysia accepting 800 of the asylum-seekers who reach Australia. But the High Court ruled last month that the agreement violated Australia's immigration law.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Monday that her administration will propose legislation to change the immigration law to clarify that the government has the authority to decide which countries would be suitable destinations for asylum seekers.

"These amendments will be broad in nature," Gillard told reporters, adding that the bill would be introduced next week. "They will enable the government of the day to design and implement its best solution."

Australia has long attracted migrants hoping to start a new life, with more than 6,200 arriving by boat last year. Many of them use Malaysia or Indonesia as a starting point and pay people smugglers for their journey to Australia.

Australia's major political parties support the concept of sending asylum seekers to other countries to deter further arrivals. But the parties differ on which third countries are appropriate. Opposition Liberal Party lawmakers have opposed sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, arguing that they could be subjected to caning and other human rights abuses.

Prospects for the bill are uncertain because Gillard's Labor Party will need the support of opposition lawmakers.

Labor's coalition partners, the Greens, have come out against the legislation.

"The right and just outcome for this country ... is to process asylum seekers on shore in Australia as every equivalent country on the face of the planet does," Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the Greens, told reporters.

Liberal Leader Tony Abbott said he was open to supporting the legislation and looked forward to being briefed on their detail.