Charities Join Outcry Over Malaysia Swap Deal
9 August 2011 at 2:27 pm
Not for Profit organisations have joined the public outcry this week against the Government’s decision to send refugees – and in particular unaccompanied minors – to Malaysia under a refugee swap deal.
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Unlike Australia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN International Refugee Convention and a High Court legal challenge has resulted in a temporary reprieve for the first asylum seekers to be sent to Malaysia under the deal.
Under the ‘swap’ deal signed in July, the government will send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and in return will take 4000 processed refugees.
High Court judge Kenneth Hayne has extended an injunction delaying the deportation of aslyum seekers to Malaysia for at least two weeks.
Not for Profit welfare organisation Baptcare says it is appalled by the Government’s decision to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia when there are more humane solutions currently available and in operation.
Baptcare’s Chief Executive Jeff Davet says sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, a country that is not a signatory to the 1951 International Refugee Convention, is a shocking resolution. He says asylum seekers have the right to a dignified and peaceful life, and there are other models in operation right now that can provide this outcome.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has urged the government not to send vulnerable individuals such as unaccompanied minors, families with children and torture and trauma survivors under this agreement.
Commission President Catherine Branson QC says while the Commission recognised the need for regional and international cooperation on asylum seekers and supported the resettling in Australia of an increased number of refugees, she was concerned that Malaysia was not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.
She says this increased the risk that those transferred to Malaysia could be returned to their country of origin where they could face grave danger.
Branson says regardless of the intended safeguards in the agreement, there is a risk that the human rights of those transferred will be breached, and that Australia will breach its non-refoulement obligations under other international treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention against Torture.
She says it is important to remember that Australia received a small number of asylum seekers by international standards.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is the guardian of unaccompanied minors who arrive in Australia seeking asylum and he is obliged to act in their best interests. According to Branson it is difficult to see how transferring unaccompanied minors to a third country could be in their best interests.
Baptcare is currently talking with Baptist churches about providing case management support to members of Baptist churches who are willing to provide accommodation to all the unaccompanied minors currently awaiting transportation to Malaysia.
Jeff Davet says Baptcare believes this is an issue of justice for all people regardless of their circumstances. These people have come to Australia seeking protection, and the government has let them down.
Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the largest provider of aid, advocacy and health services for asylum seekers in Australia, says by signing the deal, Australia undermined the UN refugee convention and knowingly breached its obligations as a signatory.
The ASRC says the agreement is purely politically motivated and that the government is overlooking alternatives to reducing the number of refugee boats, such as increasing Australia’s annual humanitarian intake quota or increasing the numbers of refugees resettled from Indonesia.
The first group of asylum seekers due to be deported will remain in Australia until after their case is heard by the full bench of the High Court on August 22.