Australia yesterday announced plans to swap its detained boatpeople with those held by the US, a move immediately denounced as "bizarre" by rights groups and opposition politicians.
The deal would see mainly Asian refugees intercepted on their way to Australia considered for resettlement in the US, while Cuban and Haitian asylum-seekers hoping to live in the US could be dispatched to Australia.
The exchange would involve boatpeople held by Australia on the remote Pacific island of Nauru and refugees held by the US at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said.
Australia and the US shared a similar problem with boatpeople regularly breaching their international borders, said Andrews, who signed an agreement on the deal with the US on Tuesday.
"Some, for example, are held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base -- not the prison -- and those cases, the Cubans and Haitians, if they've got genuine refugee claims, the United States might say to us, `Would you consider settling some of these people?' and we would give consideration to it," he said. "Equally, we might say we have people that have sought to illegally enter Australia who have a refugee claim and we could say to the United States, `Would you consider settling them?'"
Prime Minister John Howard said the scheme would deter boatpeople seeking asylum from attempting to come to Australia.
Howard said the exchange would not involve large numbers of refugees and would only happen on a case-by-case basis.