Backlash to Australia's New "Boat People" Swap


A group of 87 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka are rescued by Indonesian Maritime Police in Panaitan island where they were stranded after they ran out of fuel, food and water. The refugees left Sri Lanka on August 2010 in an attempt to reach Australia's remote Christmas island.



Human rights watchdogs are highly suspicious of a Australia's new approach to handling its deluge of seafaring refugees.

Essentially, the government will be paying Malaysia to roughly $95,000 per head to take in asylum seekers who wash up on Australian shores. The idea: desperate people in countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Burma won't risk their lives to sail towards Australia if they know they'll be bounced over to Malaysia.

But Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both say Malaysia can't be trusted to guarantee basic rights to so-called "boat people."

"Australia is using Malaysia as a dumping ground for boat people it does not want," said Phil Robertson with Human Rights Watch - Asia Division in a notice sent to journalists.

The danger, he said, is that the concept of paying poorer countries with bad track records to take on wealthier nation's refugees could prove contagious.

"Nothing spreads as fast among Asian governments as a bad idea that they think can justify abusing human rights," Robertson said.

And Amnesty International warns that "despite previous Malaysian government assurances, we know they are at risk of being caned and locked up in horrifying conditions."

What's in it for Malaysia? Cash to the tune of $292 million, according to the New Mandala blog.

As part of the deal, Australia will also take in 4,000 verified and legit refugees -- not asylum seekers still being investigated -- that are living in Malaysia.