CANBERRA: A boatload of 32 asylum seekers found in Australian waters will be the first to be sent to Malaysia, Papua New Guinea or another country under a contentious new strategy to deter future refugees from making the same journey, an official said.
The government last week struck a deal with Malaysia to swap asylum seekers for bona fide refugees and is negotiating with Papua New Guinea to accept hundreds of people who have paid smugglers to bring them to Australia by boat.
The message to asylum seekers is that Australia will not accept any more of them.
The navy intercepted the latest boatload of asylum seekers suspected to be from Afghanistan and Pakistan off the north-western coastal town of Broome overnight, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.
They will be temporarily housed in a detention centre at Christmas Island, an Australian territory near Indonesia, and then sent to another country where their refugee applications will be processed, he said.
Bowen said Malaysia had a right to reject any of the individuals on board.
Papua New Guinea was not the only other country in the Asia-Pacific region which Australia was asking to accept its asylum seekers, he said.
“I am not going to flag which country these people will be sent to, but they will be held at Christmas Island, pending removal to a third country,” Bowen said.
Lawyers and human rights groups have condemned Australia's deal with Malaysia, under which Malaysia will accept 800 asylum seekers who entered Australia illegally by sea in return for Australia settling 4,000 registered refugees living in Malaysia. - AP