The recently concluded agreement between Malaysia and Australia has created strong reactions in Australia’s multicultural communities for its rejection of Australia’s international humanitarian obligations. It is seen as a backward step in terms of the Australia’s recognition of the human rights of people in being sent to a country that is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.
The Malaysian and Australian governments sealed a pact last Monday to exchange refugees in a contentious new strategy aimed at deterring asylum seekers from undertaking perilous boat journeys to Australia. The deal will see Australia send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia over the next four years in exchange for Australia resettling 4,000 registered refugees currently languishing in this Southeast Asian nation.
Both governments announced the deal in May but were forced to fine-tune it amid objections by opposition politicians in their countries and human rights groups that criticize the treatment of about 93,000 refugees now living in Malaysia, which has not signed the U.N. Convention on Refugees.
Pino Migliorino, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils’ of Australia (FECCA) which is the national peak body for all migrant organisations, said that the deal raised many concerns including issues of Australia not supporting family reunion situations. He said that there was a danger that arrivals who had families in Australia would be sent to Malaysia.
“This is as much about our own human rights record as it is about Malaysia’s. How can we claim to ascribe to human rights values and then punish women and children by sending them to a place where there is no recognised human rights framework?” Mr. Migliorino asked.
FECCA welcomed the plans to resettle 4000 refugees in Australia. “Any increase in our humanitarian intake is to be welcomed,” said Mr Migliorino, “We have consistently supported this as well as a call to process all arrivals on Australian shores.”
FECCA is concerned about the costs of the current deal which is many times more than the costs of processing asylum seekers in Australia. Mr Migliorino said, “This seems like political point scoring rather than an effective solution to any problem. The resources ought to be focused on shortening waiting periods and on resettling new arrivals so that they can create positive outcomes for Australia by their participation in our society.”
FECCA called for independent and stringent monitoring of the program. “We recognise the complexity that this issue will create on the ground in Malaysia with different categories of arrivals treated in different ways. We have to monitor the implementation of the program and its impact, including on the relatives and families of asylum seekers already living in Australia.” The deal has gone ahead without the support of Australia’s leading refugee, asylum and human rights groups and leaders.
Mr Migliorino said, “Adding further complexities to processing is only increasing the suffering of these people, many of whom have already had traumatic experiences in fleeing their home countries. This, in turn, will mean that we are creating difficulties for ourselves when people are accepted and are unable to participate in our society due to their ongoing suffering.”