SYDNEY // Australia's government plans to post video on YouTube and Facebook of the first group of asylum seekers sent to Malaysia under a pact between the countries to swap refugees, in an attempt to deter asylum seekers from taking dangerous boat journeys to Australia.
Releasing video of the asylum seekers at Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, boarding a plane, and arriving in Malaysia will help raise awareness of Australia's new policy, the immigration minister, Chris Bowen, said yesterday.
"We know that people smugglers tell lies. We know that people smugglers will be out there saying, 'Look, this won't apply to you,' because they are desperate to make money off desperate people," Mr Bowen said. "I do think that many people would have access to that sort of social media, and word of mouth will spread quickly."
Malaysia and Australia recently agreed to swap asylum seekers in a new strategy aimed at stemming the flow of refugee hopefuls from countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq who typically fly to Indonesia and then continue to Australia by sea on board cramped, rickety boats.
Under the deal, Australia will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia over the next four years in exchange for Australia resettling 4,000 registered refugees currently languishing in Malaysia.
Alwi Ibrahim, a Malaysian home ministry spokesman, said authorities expect to receive the first batch of asylum seekers next week and were finalising arrangements such as preparing facilities to hold them when they arrive.
Human rights groups have criticised the plan, arguing that asylum seekers are treated poorly in Malaysia, which has not signed the UN Convention on Refugees. Australia insists those sent to Malaysia will be treated humanely, and will have access to education and health care.
The first boatload of asylum seekers expected to be sent to Malaysia was intercepted on Sunday. They will be processed on Christmas Island before they are ordered to board a plane bound for Kuala Lumpur.
The acting foreign minister, Craig Emerson, when asked if the video could put the asylum seekers' personal safety at risk if they were sent back to their homelands, referred to last year's accident on Christmas Island, in which 48 asylum seekers were killed when their wooden boat smashed into the island's cliffs.
"So an acute risk to people's safety is getting on those vessels in the first place," Mr Emerson said. "And if there is footage showing that those who arrive by boat will be going to Malaysia, well maybe that will help enforce in people's minds that the people smugglers' offer to them is a dud offer, a dud, risky, dangerous, life-threatening offer and we want to smash that people smugglers' model."
The immigration department spokesman, Sandi Logan, said the asylum seekers' faces will be pixellated in the video to help protect their privacy.