KUALA LUMPUR: In a move to combat people smuggling and irregular migration in the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia and Australia yesterday announced a new bilateral arrangement which entails among others, an agreement for a cooperative transfer of asylum seekers.
In a statement issued by both governments, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that under the new arrangement, asylum seekers arriving by sea in Australia would be transferred to Malaysia.
In exchange, Australia would expand its humanitarian programme and take on a greater burden-sharing responsibility for resettling refugees currently residing in Malaysia, the statement said.
Both prime ministers agreed that the core elements of the arrangement would include the transfer of 800 irregular maritime arrivals, who arrived in Australia after the date of effect of the arrangement, to Malaysia, for refugee status determination.
“In return, over four years, Australia will resettle 4,000 refugees already currently residing in Malaysia,” the statement added.
The statement added that the transferees would not receive any preferential treatment over asylum seekers already in Malaysia.
“Transferees will be provided with the opportunity to have their asylum claims considered and those in need of international protection will not be refouled,” it said.
Both governments also pledged to treat transferees “with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards.” Australia would fully fund the arrangement, it added.
Both leaders said the bilateral agreement signed by both of them was part of the Regional Cooperation Framework agreed to at the Bali Process Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia on March 30 this year.
They said that both countries were working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to operationalise the arrangement.
Najib and Gillard said the complex nature of irregular migration, which they said was closely linked to the crimes of human trafficking and people smuggling, cannot be solved by acting alone but “must be tackled by countries forming cooperative arrangements under the auspices of regional and international frameworks.”
They said the implementation of this one-off pilot project would be important “to undermine the business model of transnational criminal syndicates” particularly in people smuggling and human trafficking in this region.
The Malaysian and Australian governments had asked senior officials to finalise a memorandum of understanding in the near future to set out detailed arrangements, the statement added. — Bernama