MEMORANDUM to the Australian High Commission in Malaysia on the Australia-Malaysia Agreement on the Transfer of Asylum Seekers

MEMORANDUM to the Australian High Commission in Malaysia on the Australia-Malaysia Agreement on the Transfer of Asylum Seekers

25 May 2011

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, wish to express our opposition to the proposed Australia-Malaysia bilateral agreement, in principle, to transfer the next 800 asylum seekers seeking asylum in Australia to Malaysia.

Although the terms of the joint agreement remain vague, we are of the view that the Australian Government is making a mistake in arranging this joint agreement with the Malaysian Government which is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”). This proposed exchange is a misguided approach in dealing with a complex issue that will cause serious ramifications as Malaysia has a long record of abuse and mistreatment of people seeking protection. This arrangement, if implemented, may lead to the violation of the rights of transferred individuals to Malaysia.

Australia has ratified the Refugee Convention and is obliged to promote and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. Under the convention, Australia may not transfer any refugee who is lawfully present in its territories. Australia may also not transfer refugees who are not lawfully present its country where the transfer may result in violation of the rights of those transferred refugees. Australia may only transfer refugees and asylum seekers to states where there are procedures for the recognition of their status and rights.

Malaysia has no domestic act to protect the rights and security of refugees and asylum seekers as well as no legal recognition of their status. This creates significant barriers in their livelihood options in accessing their right to work, education and health. Furthermore, asylum seekers and refugees live in constant fear of the authorities, in particular, the police, Immigration authorities and the People’s Volunteer Corps (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat, RELA). as they are treated as undocumented migrants and subjected to harsh immigration laws and policies. We question the Australian government’s silence towards Malaysia’s mistreatment of undocumented migrants and refugees while outsourcing its responsibility without seriously taking into consideration the rights, well being and safety of the refugees.

Even though the agreement will see the resettlement of 4,000 refugees from Malaysia to Australia, the agreement falls far from “burden sharing”, as mentioned by the Australian government. Instead, this move is more of a “burden transition” from Australia to Malaysia. The Australian Government should not show a bad example of treatment of asylum seekers and refugees to Malaysia and other states in the region that have not ratified the Refugee Convention.

We emphasise that the Australian Government must first urge the Malaysian Government to ratify the Refugee Convention before making any agreements with regards to refugees and asylum seekers.

We, the undersigned organizations, call upon the Australian government to;

• Immediately withdraw the asylum agreement.

• Urge the Malaysian Government to establish domestic legislation to promote and protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers who are already in Malaysia and to ratify the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

• Respect its international obligations in relation to asylum seekers that enter its country. These obligations include Australia’s commitments under the Refugee Convention and a few other international instruments, including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

Increase its humanitarian programme, in particular, to resettle more refugees from Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region to Australia.

Endorsed by:
Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)
Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
TENAGANITA

Press Statement: 21 June 2010 Gov’t Must Act Immediately on UN’s Call for the Repeal of Detention-without-Trial Laws and End to Detention of Refugees & Asylum Seekers

The initial findings and recommendations of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) from its country visit to Malaysia from 7 to 18 June 2010 have added to the long list of recommendations and concerns pertaining to the Malaysian government’s legislations, policies and practices of arbitrary detention.

“Classic Cases of Arbitrary Detention” under ISA, EO, DDA, RRA
Among its initial findings of its visit, the WGAD stated that it is “seriously concerned” about the existence and enforcement of laws which provide for detention without trial in Malaysia, namely the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance (EO), the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act (DDA), and the Restricted Residence Act (RRA).

The WGAD stated that these laws “deny the detainee the right to a fair and public hearing” and “severely restrict detainees’ access to legal counsel”.

During the press conference held by the WGAD on 18 June 2010, its Chairperson-Rapporteur El Hadji Malick Sow stated that detentions under the ISA, the EO, the DDA, and the RRA are “classic cases of arbitrary detention”. The WGAD also noted with concern that “thousands of people” are being detained under the EO and the DDA.

“Systematic” Detention of Refugees
Also of concern to the WGAD is the detention of refugees and asylum seekers. The WGAD’s Chairperson-Rapporteur described the detention of refugees as “systematic”, noting that even refugees who are in possession of identity cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are not exempted from arrests and detentions.

Malaysia’s non-ratification of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and non-recognition of the status of refugees and asylum seekers have resulted in the detention of many refugees under immigration laws in Malaysia for their alleged “illegal presence” in Malaysian territory. The WGAD noted that detainees who have served prison sentences under immigration laws are often held in immigration detention centres for an indefinite period while awaiting deportation to their countries of origin.

Recommendations Not New, No Reason for Delay in Implementation
While the WGAD’s final report will only be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2011, its initial recommendations are clear enough for the government to make immediate efforts for improvements.

Furthermore,similar recommendations have already been made in the past by other bodies – such as the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police, and various UN member states. As such, there is no justification for the government not to implement the WGAD’s recommendations immediately, especially in view of its status as an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council. Moreover, since it was the Malaysian government that invited the WGAD for this visit, it must also be consistent with such commitment by implementing the recommendations made.

Repeal All Detention-without-Trial Laws
On detention-without-trial laws, the WGAD recommended that the ISA, the EO, the DDA, and the RRA be repealed. The WGAD further noted that even if these laws are not repealed, the government must ensure that they are amended to the extent that they are in conformity with Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out the guarantees of the right of every individual to a fair trial.

In other words, even if the government wishes to amend the detention-without-trial laws instead of repealing them, the amendments must ensure that all persons must be accorded a fair trial before being detained. This effectively means that the government must end its practice of detaining
individuals without trial.

Hence, while the government has announced its intention to amend the ISA, the EO, and the DDA, any changes which will merely reduce the periods of detention – including the initial investigative period of detention (currently 60 days) and the subsequent detention order by the Home Ministry (currently 2 years) – would not adequately fulfill the recommendations of the WGAD.

SUARAM thus strongly calls upon the government to immediately re-look into the proposed amendments to all the detention-without-trial laws with additional consideration of the WGAD’s recommendations to do away with the practice of detaining individuals without trial. Ultimately, the ISA, the EO, the DDA, and the RRA must be repealed.

At the same time, the government should immediately end the arrests made under the detention-without-trial laws, and release all individuals who are currently detained under these laws or charge them in a fair and open court.

End Detention of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Other Vulnerable Migrants On the detention of immigrants, the WGAD stated that “detention of immigrants should be decided upon by a court of law, on a case by case basis, and pursuant to clearly and exhaustively defined criteria in legislation”. The WGAD stressed that immigrants should have an effective remedy to challenge the necessity and legality of their detention at any time.

The WGAD also stressed that immigration detention should not be applied to refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable groups of migrants, including unaccompanied minors, families with minor children, pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, or people with serious and/or chronic physical or mental health problems.

The Malaysian government has also been urged by the WGAD to ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a recommendation which has already been made on numerous occasions by SUHAKAM as well as UN member states during the Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia in February 2009.

SUARAM strongly urges the government to immediately implement these recommendations, especially in refraining from the arrests of refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups of migrants. The government should also immediately provide a concrete timeframe for the ratification of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Invite UN Experts in Other Areas Too
Lastly, while the WGAD expressed its gratitude towards the Malaysian government for its invitation which made the visit possible, and while being fully aware of the fact that the visit of the WGAD as well as other Special Procedures Mandate Holders of the UN Human Rights Council cannot be made without the host government’s invitation, SUARAM wishes to point out that the WGAD had in fact made a request for a country visit to Malaysia way back in 2008. It was only in early 2010 that the Malaysian government officially and publicly confirmed its acceptance of the WGAD’s request to visit Malaysia.

To date, the Malaysian government still has not responded to eight pending requests by other
Special Procedures Mandate Holders, namely the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (request made in 2002); the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples (2005); the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion (2006); the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants (2006); the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism (2005); the Independent Expert on Minority Issues (2007 and 2009); the Special Rapporteur on Racism (2008); and Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (2009).

SUARAM therefore calls upon the Malaysian government to extend standing invitations to all Special Procedures Mandate Holders of the UN Human Rights Council, with particular urgency in responding to the eight mandate holders which have made requests for country visits to Malaysia.

Released by,
John Liu
Coordinator