Australia to dump refugees into horrific Malaysian camps


Refugee support groups are horrified by a deal the Australian government has made to dump 800 boat people in Malaysia, where they face detention in camps under horrific conditions. Under the deal 800 asylum seekers who make their way to Australia by boat could be immediately taken to Malaysia to have their claims processed. In return Australia will take 4,000 people already living in Malaysia as genuine refugees.


The Refugee Action Coalition says this is just the latest chapter in Australia's attempts to dodge its international obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees.


"Let's be clear who the Australian government has chosen to do a deal with," said Mark Goudkamp from the Coalition. "Malaysia is a repressive authoritarian state and a human rights pariah which is regularly criticized by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It treats refugees and asylum seekers as illegal undocumented workers, so they are the targets of particular maltreatment.


"They are often brutally arrested and held in filthy, insect ridden and overcrowded detention camps. There are no beds, only wooden boards without mattresses. When found guilty of immigration offences, asylum seekers are tied up and caned until they bleed. This is the sort of regime the government has chosen to do business with.


"Reports in Malaysia's Sun newspaper that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration are co-operating to 'operationalise the arrangement' are deeply troubling. The UNHCR should have nothing to do with a deal that is designed to deny the rights asylum seekers have under the UN Convention," Goudkamp says. (For more of this media release click here.)


Parliamentarians of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government and her Labor Party have told the Human Rights Alliance that Gillard and the party will be diminished “because of their cowardice towards a Malaysian solution. Some are utterly embarrassed and distressed at the new low by the ALP.”


These dissenters see a horrific mistake being made, tantamount to cowardice, in moving towards a piecemeal solution similar to that of the  previous ultraconservative government of John Howard.


In 2004 30% of the ALP voted against mandatory detention of asylum seekers, notes the alliance, “therefore many within the ALP would be naturally frustrated, appalled and increasingly disgusted by their party's leadership”.


Gerry Georgatos, convener of the Human Rights Alliance, says ALP parliamentarians have told him that they are working behind the scenes, but with their backs against the wall, for an end to mandatory detention or for more propriety driven asylum policies.


“The Malaysian Solution will solve nothing. The UNHCR should reject what Australia is trying to do in Malaysia. East Timor rejected Australia's infamous proposition to them which in effect discriminates and insults our global neighbours. The Malaysian Solution is discriminatory of our South East Asian neighbours, an insult to the global community.” (See the whole media release by clicking here.)


The Gillard government has a one-seat majority in a house of 150 seats. Three Independents and the only Green in the House,  Adam Bandt, keep her Labor party in power in a fractious cohabitation.


Especially Bandt and The Greens party have been massively criticised for not using his leverage, if necessary by threatening to scuttle the government, over the boat people dispute.


Being harsh to asylum seekers, especially those trying to come in by people-smuggling boats, is very popular with mainstream Australians.


The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Tun Razak, has said the asylum-seeker transfer deal with Australia will send a strong signal to people smugglers.


The timing of the exchange is yet to be finalised but the announcement comes as the Association of South-East Asian Nations also agreed to boost co-operation in dealing with transnational crime.


The push for greater co-operation comes after Indonesia recently made people smuggling illegal introducing penalties of between five and 15 years in prison.