Concerns over the Proposed Australia-Malaysia Refugee Transfer Arrangement
For Release: 12 May 2011
The Migration Working Group is deeply concerned to hear about the possibility of a bilateral agreement between Australia and Malaysia in which 800 asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia will be transferred to Malaysia for refugee status determination in return for Australia resettling 4,000 UNHCR-recognised refugees over 4 years.
Australia, as a state party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol, should not violate its obligations under the 1951 Convention. It is surprising that Australia would even consider Malaysia as an ally in refugee protection. Malaysia has shown no positive signs of considering accession to the 1951 Convention. Worse still, Malaysia has one of the most appalling records for the abuse, torture and detention of asylum seekers and refugees.
Most asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia live in squalid conditions, poverty and insecurity. Without the formal right to reside and work in Malaysia, most are forced to obtain jobs in the informal economy, where many suffer from violations of labour rights, including unpaid wages and forced labour. They are in constant danger of arrest, detention, punishment for immigration offences (including whipping) and deportation, leading to refoulement. When arrested, they face months of detention in immigration detention depots, many of which are overcrowded and unhygienic with poor sanitation. Refugee children are not provided with access to education.
We are concerned that the 800 asylum seekers transferred to Malaysia will suffer from the same conditions currently faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia. What procedural safeguards and measures will Australia and Malaysia put in place to ensure that the rights of asylum seekers and refugees under the 1951 Convention are protected? How will Australia and Malaysia ensure that they will have access to fair refugee status determination procedures and will not be subject to indefinite detention, punishment for immigration offences, and refoulement? While in Malaysia, will they have the right to reside, to work, and, for children, the right to education?
We urge Australia and Malaysia to live up to their existing human rights obligations as members of the United Nations, and for Malaysia to accede to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol without further delay. Without a domestic legal framework in place for refugee protection that meets the standards of the 1951 Convention, Malaysia should not be considered a safe place for asylum seekers and refugees.
For more information, please contact Daniel Lo, Co-Coordinator of the Migration Working Group at 012 218 6051 (mobile) or [email protected] (email)
Endorsed by the following members of the Migration Working Group:
Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) Asia Pacific
Coalition to Abolish Modern-Day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA)
Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM Asia)
Foreign Spouse Support Group (FFSG)
The National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
Justice, Peace & Solidarity In Mission Office, Congregation of the Good Shepherd Sisters, Province of Singapore-Malaysia
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)
Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)
Penang Office for Human Development (POHD)
Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd (PKGS)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
About the Migration Working Group:
The Migration Working Group (MWG) is a network of Malaysian civil society groups and individuals who advocate for the rights of migrants, refugees, stateless persons, trafficked persons and foreign spouses.