Australia condemned over deal to ship refugees to Malaysia

Australia's latest initiative to deter asylum-seekers by sending them to Malaysia was roundly condemned yesterday, with critics noting that Kuala Lumpur has refused to sign the United Nations Refugee Convention and has a record of mistreating refugees.

Under pressure to act tough on "boat people", the Prime Minister, Julia Gilllard, said at the weekend that the next 800 asylum-seekers to arrive in Australia would be taken to Malaysia, where they will join a long queue to have their claims processed by UN officials.

In exchange, over the next four years Australia will accept 4,000, mainly Burmese, refugees who are in Malaysia awaiting resettlement. While the deal is being painted as a one-off, Malaysia's High Commissioner to Australia, Salman Ahmad, hinted strongly that his country would welcome similar swaps in future.

The announcement followed news that Canberra was negotiating with Papua New Guinea to reopen an immigration detention centre on the remote island of Manus. If agreement is reached, thousands of asylum-seekers will be processed there, as happened under the right-wing former prime minister, John Howard.

The number of boat people has dropped sharply this year: 940 came in the first four months, compared with more than 2,100 in the same period last year. However, many Australians are convinced the country is being "swamped" – an impression the conservative opposition has been at pains to bolster.

Ms Gillard said the new deal would be a major blow to people-smugglers who ship asylum-seekers to Australia via Malaysia and Indonesia. "The key message this will deliver to people-smugglers and those seeking to make the dangerous journey to Australia is: do not get on that boat," she said. "Under this arrangement, if you arrive in Australian waters and are taken to Malaysia, you will go to the back of the queue."

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, said the agreement would benefit both countries, while sending a strong signal that his country should not be used as a transit point. But the plan was attacked by Amnesty International Australia's refugee co-ordinator, Graham Thom, who said: "If you're looking for a country in the region that has some of the harshest policies towards refugees and asylum-seekers, then you couldn't really go past Malaysia."

An Amnesty report last year said Malaysia's detention centres were filthy and overcrowded. "Detainees lack proper healthcare, sufficient food and clean drinking water," it said. "Children under 18 are held with adults, and abuse by detention staff is rife."

The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, says refugees in Malaysia are vulnerable to arrest, and "may be subject to detention, prosecution, whipping and deportation".

The refugee swap will be expensive, with Australia footing the A$292m (£191m) bill. But Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition, believes it will not deter asylum-seekers from coming. "People are unaware of the fine detail when [they] set out from Afghanistan or Sri Lanka," he said.

Mr Ahmad told Sky News that Malaysia treated its 90,000 refugees "with respect and dignity".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones