SYDNEY, May 8, 2011 (AFP) – Australia on Sunday defended plans to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia, saying it was an important signal to people smugglers, but refugee advocates slammed the proposal as cruel. Australia wants to transfer 800 boat people to Malaysia for processing as part of a yet-to-be-finalised one-off deal which the Canberra government hopes will be a first step in developing a regional solution.
“This is about breaking the people smugglers’ business model,” Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.
“This now means that people smugglers will need to find 800 volunteers to pay their money, risk their lives, come to Australia with the prospect of a plane ticket to Malaysia.
“People smugglers will now have a much tougher job in selling their product.”
Bowen said Malaysian officials had indicated that people would be processed swiftly and treated with dignity and respect while their claims for refugee status were assessed.
But refugee campaigners in both countries attacked the proposal, saying it would not stop thousands of asylum seekers from risking their lives on perilous boat journeys to Australia each year.
“No-one, when they set out from Afghanistan or