08 May 2011

Gillard’s Malaysia solution

In this Joint Statement with the Prime Minister of Malaysia, issued Saturday 7 May 2011, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that 800 “irregular maritime arrivals”, who arrive in Australia after the date of effect of the arrangement, will be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination, and in return, over four years, Australia will resettle 4000 refugees already currently residing in Malaysia.

This is a grim prospect for any asylum seeker.  Malaysia has a poor human rights record when it comes to the treatment of refugees. Being a non-signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, it regards refugees as illegal immigrants and treats them as such.

A selection of asylum seeker advocate opinion on the treatment of asylum seekers in Malaysia may be seen here in the 8 May 2011 online edition of The Sydney Morning Herald:

The executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, said: "Malaysia has a long-standing record as one of the worst in the world when it comes to the treatment of refugees in its country. At times they have made no bones about their willingness to expel refugees to situations where they may face persecution.

"What we are looking at essentially is a refugee swap. It is difficult to see how this deal will in any way provide a solution to the complex challenges in our region."

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said people in Malaysian detention centres have been "flogged and raped".

"They are well known human rights abusers," she said.

Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, said it was no better than John Howard's Pacific Solution.

An Amnesty International report last year described Malaysia's detention centres as "filthy and overcrowded". It said: "Once in the centres, detainees lack proper health care, sufficient food and clean drinking water. Children under 18 are held with adults, and abuse by detention staff is rife. Poor detention conditions have led to serious illness, which in some cases have been fatal."

We will be paying $300 million over four years for this, just so that we can say that 800 asylum seekers did not arrive on our shores. That is $375,000 per asylum seeker, which doesn’t sound like value for money to me.

We can do better than this, we can do much, much better than this.

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