Thailand interested in unloading its refugees onto Australia too

They'd be mad not to. The mad one is Gillard

THAILAND has expressed interest in striking a similar asylum-seeker deal with Australia to the one proposed by the Gillard government with Malaysia.

The development came as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said a boatload of 32 asylum-seekers intercepted off Western Australia would be sent to a third country, even though the deal with Malaysia has yet to be finalised. Australia is in talks to swap 800 asylum-seekers for 4,000 genuine refugees currently living in Malaysia.

Australia has been seeking a regional solution to the issue of asylum-seekers, and has also approached Papua New Guinea about reopening its Manus Island detention centre.

Last night Thailand's foreign minister Kasit Piromya said Thailand would be interested in considering a swap arrangement similar to that Australia had reached with Malaysia. “I think the agreement between Australia and Malaysia on this particular model based on, I think, five to one ratio is something that the rest of us will be interested to look at,” Mr Kasit said after bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in Bangkok.

He said many countries had been looking for a way to deal with an influx of asylum-seekers. “I think the Australian-Malaysian likely agreement would provide some sort of certainty and also a model for others to study,” he said. “I think the whole issue could be discussed further by all the other countries involved.”

Many of the refugees Australia is set to take from Malaysia are from Burma, and travelled to Malaysia via Thailand.

Mr Rudd said he and Mr Kasit discussed the broader issue of asylum-seekers. “So what we discussed in particular was the ongoing support which our friends in Thailand need to sustain something in the order of 110,000 people spread across nine camps,” Mr Rudd said.

The asylum-seekers intercepted off Western Australia on Friday night are the first to arrive since Labor's announcement of its agreement with Malaysia. Believed to be from Afghanistan and Pakistan, they will be taken to Christmas Island for identity checks.

However Mr Bowen said they would then be taken to a third country, although he would not say what country that was. “It's well known we've been in discussions with Papua New Guinea. It's well known we are in discussions across the region,” he said. “We have an agreement to enter into a bilateral arrangement with Malaysia. “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.”

Mr Bowen added: “My message to people smugglers and to asylum-seekers is very clear. “We will not be accepting and processing people for asylum claims who arrive in Australia by boat.”

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the arrival showed people-smugglers had not been put off by Labor spin on a people-swap deal with Malaysia.

Mr Bowen could not say where the group would be sent because the government had no deal with Malaysia, PNG, East Timor or anywhere else, Mr Morrison said. “Having realised that by announcing their panicked deal before it was agreed and operational they had issued an invitation to people smugglers, Minister Bowen is now trying to shut the gate once, in this case, the boats have bolted.”

Mr Bowen had not confirmed if Malaysia had been specified as a place asylum-seekers could be transferred to under Australian law, Mr Morrison said. “Unlike on Nauru or Manus Island, Australia will have no role in looking after the welfare of those potentially transferred to Malaysia under their five-for-one people-swap deal.


Expensive "Asylum-seekers

"The flood of asylum-seekers will generate a $1 billion-plus bonanza for the controversial foreign conglomerate that runs Australia's detention centres. Serco originally signed a five-year contract worth $370 million to run the facilities, including the Maribyrnong Detention Centre, until mid-2014. But immigration industry experts said this figure was now likely to burst through the billion-dollar barrier.

Figures obtained from government tender records show the total size of Serco's contracts in relation to asylum-seekers was quietly doubled in November to more than $756 million.

Of this, $712 million is allocated to run the centres through to mid-2014, including the notorious Villawood Centre in Sydney which was almost burnt to the ground last month by rioting asylum-seekers. A further $44.5 million was set aside for "residential housing and transport" for detainees.

But immigration industry sources are saying the latest contract amount for Serco is already six months out of date, and it stands to make hundreds of millions more from the taxpayers with continued boat arrivals.

One source said the asylum-seeker boom since November had already added up to $200 million to the total value of Serco's detention contracts. That would value them at up to $950 million as of this month.

Industry experts said Serco's bonanza was set to easily crack the $1 billion barrier if the Government's new "Malaysia Solution" does not work and refugee boats keep coming.

An Immigration Department spokesman refused to speculate on the Serco bonanza. A Serco spokeswoman said these were "questions for the Government".

In the two years since Serco took over the detention centres contract, there has been a blowout in both the number of refugees and detention facilities. In mid-2009, there were less than 1000 detainees in seven centres. But the latest figures show there are now 6700 detainees in 24 facilities across the country, all run by Serco.


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