According to the Edmund Rice Centre, Malaysia's poor human rights record and refusal to sign the Refugee Convention, raise deep fears for the asylum-seeker deportation deal announced by the Australian Government at the weekend.
“There is a need for an effective regional framework to better protect refugees. However, this deportation deal is mostly about domestic politics and links Australia to policies which are inconsistent with both the Refugee Convention and the values the Australian people would expect their Government to uphold,” ERC Director, Phil Glendenning, said.
“Whilst we welcome the announcement that Australia will take more refugees, this idea of trading one group of vulnerable human beings for another group is not the way to do it.” he continued.
“The Edmund Rice Centre renews our call for disciplined bipartisanship on this issue. The human lives at risk are too important for poll-driven endless partisan point-scoring. In international terms the numbers coming to Australia are tiny. The vast majority of asylum-seekers coming to this country, arrive by plane - not by boat,” he said.
“Unless and until our politicians get together and stop misleading Australians as to the gravity of this issue, and work on a bi-partisan basis to establish a serious framework with the other nations of the region, then this issue will continue to be exploited to divide the nation and punish very vulnerable people,” Mr Glendenning stated.
“The deportation deal announced with Malaysia demonstrates that both sides of Parliament have allowed the asylum debate to become out of proportion to reality. It's of deep concern that a country like Australia, which has willingly signed on to the Refugee Convention, should consider sending people to a country that has refused to do the same – commit itself to be accountable to the same obligations to offer protection.”
“In the past eight years of the Edmund Rice Centre's research into the fate of rejected asylum-seekers, we have found that, under the previous Government, when Australia returned people to the countries they had fled, many were persecuted upon return. In Afghanistan, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Iran people were killed, including children,” Mr Glendenning said.
“This must never ever happen again - however, this deportation deal with Malaysia offers the potential for similar abuses”.
“There are over 90,000 asylum-seekers in Malaysia and that country's very poor track record in the management of these vulnerable people has been well documented. The way they live and are treated on a day-to-day basis is not consistent with the assurances that the Australian Government is now offering about the way that those transferred from Australia will be treated,” Mr Glendenning said.
“If dignity and respect is not offered to groups currently there, why should concerned Australians believe it will be to other groups in the future.”
“In Malaysia asylum-seekers are regarded as illegal migrants, where they are unable to work, are regularly harassed by authorities, and where they are forced to live with the constant fear of being returned to the country they sought to escape, where they may be persecuted or even killed,” he affirmed.
“Given Australia’s record in returning people to danger from off-shore detention centres outside Australian legal jurisdiction, and Malaysia’s well-documented poor treatment of asylum seekers over many years, it is hard to see how any prospective bilateral agreement between Australia and Malaysia could provide the necessary protection.
"Asylum seekers and the Australian people deserve better than this,” Mr Glendenning concluded.
For interview/comment contact Phil Glendenning: 0419 013 758 or Sean Cleary 0403 434 512