Australia and Malaysia have agreed to cooperate to stop people smugglers transporting asylum seekers by boat through Southeast Asia. The deal was struck ahead of a brief visit to Kuala Lumpur by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Many illegal migrants, especially from South Asia, use Malaysia as a starting point for their voyage to a new life in Australia via Indonesia.

Australian officials say that thousands of potential asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka are ready to make the treacherous sea crossing.

Australia has intercepted 15 boats this year, while authorities in Malaysia have apprehended more than 100 people embarking on overcrowded vessels in recent months.

This year 825 boat people have been detained in Australia's northern waters, compared with 179 for the whole of 2008.

The issue of border security is a sensitive one for Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. His critics say his policies encourage people traffickers to target the country's remote northwest frontier.

During a three-hour visit to Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Rudd was meeting with his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak. He said the two governments will work closely to combat the smugglers.

"It struck me as a great opportunity to spend a few hours on some practical questions given that people smuggling is a real challenge for us," he said. "We have to work hand in glove with our partners."

Few details about the enhanced cooperation have been released. Senior Malaysian officials say that patrolling the country's long coastline is difficult and that eliminating the scourge of human-trafficking problem will be hard.

In Australia, the conservative opposition says the source of the problem lies with Kevin Rudd's asylum policies.

Last year, Mr. Rudd relaxed rules calling for mandatory incarceration for migrants who enter illegally and allowed full residency visas for those who are accepted as refugees.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull blames the Rudd Labor government for a surge in the number of illegal migrants.

"Labor's policies are failing," said Turnbull. "They are not protecting our borders. Ultimately he will be judged on results."

Following his stop in Malaysia, Kevin Rudd will visit Germany, Switzerland, the Vatican and Italy, where he will attend a summit of major economies.