Friday, June 3, 2011

Malaysia plays hardball over asylum swap deal with Australia

Asylum seekers sit on a fisherman’s boat after they were rescued when their boat sunk off the Sunda straits in Indonesia’s Banten province on May 24, 2011. They were heading for Christmas Island in Australia.

Malaysia is pushing hard over the proposed refugee swap agreement with Australia and has removed all references to human rights in the deal.

According to the draft agreement obtained by Australian broadcaster ABC TV’s Lateline, Malaysia wants to decide which asylum seekers it accepts and for Australia to cover almost all costs of the refugee exchange.

“Where the Transferee do (sic) not agree to return to their country of origin, voluntarily forced returns may be necessary. In this event, the Government of Australia will be fully responsible to accept and ensure voluntarily forced returns,” stated the document, as quoted by ABC.

ABC said Malaysia has insisted on sending 4,000 refugees to Australia, regardless of how many asylum seekers it accepted in return.

Malaysia also does not want the United Nations Refugee Convention, which it is not a signatory of, to cover its side of the agreement.

“The treatment of the Transferee while in Malaysia will be in accordance with the Malaysian laws, rules, regulations and national policies,” said the document.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concerns with Malaysia’s amendments to the agreement that were made last Monday.

“What the document shows is that there is a real reluctance by Malaysia to commit to a clear inclusion of human rights standards and guarantees,” Australia’s Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre co-ordinator David Manne was quoted as saying.

“For example, in the document refugees are referred to as illegal immigrants. There’s no reference to the word asylum seeker. There’s certainly no reference to human rights,” he said.

An internal UNHCR document has also suggested that Australia had a position on sending children to Malaysia, according to ABC.

“AUL (Australia) doesn’t want to provide exceptions for UAMS (unaccompanied minors) and vulnerable individuals for fear if (sic) this being a pull factor exploited by smugglers,” the document said.

The opposition Greens and independent lawmakers in Australia have questioned Malaysia’s human rights record as Canberra faces mounting criticisms of its asylum swap deal, now roundly derided as the “Malaysia Solution”.

Australian media has highlighted Amnesty International as saying 6,000 detainees in Malaysia each year suffer the rattan cane, which “shreds the victim’s naked skin and turns tissue into pulp”.

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

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

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