Top UN official says ‘Malaysia solution’ illegal

The Malaysian Insider | May 24, 2011

SYDNEY, May 24 — The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has slammed the Australian government’s asylum seeker deal with Malaysia as illegal, the Australian Associated Press reported today.

Navi Pillay, who is scheduled to meet Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Canberra today, reportedly told a forum in Sydney that asylum seekers are not adequately protected in Malaysia.

“If Australia is serious … about sending 800 people out to Malaysia then I think it violates refugee law,” she was quoted by AAP as saying.

“It cannot send individuals to a country that has not ratified the torture convention, the convention on refugees.”

Canberra plans to send 800 asylum seekers who try to come to Australia by boat to Malaysia for processing.

In exchange, Australia will resettle 4,000 genuine refugees currently residing in Malaysia.

The Malaysia-Australia refugee swap can potentially “break the business model” of people smugglers, Australian Immigration and Citizenship Minister Clive Bowen argued last week.

He said the deal, dubbed the “Malaysian solution”, will have “the same (or better) practical effect as ‘turning back the boats’” as most refugees heading to Australia first fly to Kuala Lumpur before starting their boat journey to Australia via Indonesia.

“The logic of the Malaysian arrangement is simple. Why would you pay a substantial amount of money and risk your life only to be returned to where you began your boat journey?” Bowen said in an op-ed piece in The Australian last week.

He added that the solution would also help avoid danger to both asylum seekers and navy crew during turn-backs in “rough seas”.

Australia currently tries to intercept boat people in the Indian Ocean, who are then detained on its remote Christmas Island for processing, preventing asylum seekers from gaining greater legal rights by landing on the Australian mainland.

Bowen also slammed “predictable flak from both the left and the right” as neither has suggested an alternative that will increase Australia’s role in settling refugees while clamping down on people-smuggling.

He said the Greens, who said asylum seekers should not be sent to Malaysia because of poor conditions here, should welcome the deal if refugee welfare is the party’s concern as the swap deal will increase Australia’s commitment to resettle refugees by almost three-fold.

“If the Greens and others are concerned about the situation for asylum seekers in Malaysia, then the net transfer of 3,200 from people from Malaysia to Australia should be something they welcome,” Bowen said.

He added that by reducing boat arrivals, slightly more than half of whom were not genuine asylum seekers, Australia would be able to resettle 93,509 refugees — including 18,750 children — who fled “very difficult environments” in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, now registered in Malaysia.

Australia’s Parliament is set to censure the refugee-swapping deal after its Senate approved a motion by the Greens last Wednesday calling on the government to abandon the deal.

Under the deal revealed a week ago, Australia and Malaysia agreed to deport 800 asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores to Malaysia for processing.

In exchange, Australia will expand its humanitarian intake and resettle 4,000 refugees from Malaysia over four years at a cost of A$292 million (RM935.39 million).

Australia currently detains more than 6,000 asylum seekers — originating from countries like Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Both the press and lawmakers in Australia have slammed Gillard and her government for the refugee trade, with Canberra being accused of abdicating its duty towards human rights by “outsourcing” its refugee problem to Malaysia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has raised humanitarian concerns about Gillard’s deal with Malaysia, which has been accused whipping and deporting asylum seekers.

The AAP reported today that Pillay said Australia’s asylum seeker processing policy should be legal and made more efficient.

“The first option should not be how best to turn away people, the first option should be how to receive people.”

Human Rights Law Centre executive director Phil Lynch called on Labor to walk away from the deal, which hasn’t been officially signed yet by both nations, the AAP said.

“Australia’s obligation is to provide protection to those people who lawfully seek asylum under the refugees convention,” Lynch told ABC Radio.

“That is Australia’s international obligation, it is our moral obligation, it is our human obligation.”

  1. #1 by wanderer on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 - 3:48 pm

    This agreement between Australia/Malaysia is like a “marriage of convenience”. Australia premier is using this proposal to prop her declining popularity and for Malaysia, it is harvest time for the ruling corrupted crooks. The refugees are used as pawns again…for political heartless scumbags.

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