Date: 
Monday 25 July 2011

The Australian Human Rights Commission has again expressed its concerns about sending people who claim asylum in Australia to Malaysia or other third countries, and has urged that, in particular, the government not send vulnerable individuals such as unaccompanied minors, families with children and torture and trauma survivors under this agreement.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC said while the Commission recognised the need for regional and international cooperation on asylum seekers and supported the resettling in Australia of an increased number of refugees, she was concerned that Malaysia was not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. This increases the risk that those transferred to Malaysia could be returned to their country of origin where they could face grave danger.

Ms Branson said regardless of the intended safeguards in the agreement, there is a risk that the human rights of those transferred will be breached.

“There is a risk that in sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, Australia could breach its non-refoulement obligations under other international treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention against Torture. We are also concerned that transferring anyone who has a family member already in Australia could breach their right to family unity,” she said.

“Also, despite the safeguards in the agreement there remains a risk that people transferred to Malaysia will be mistreated.

“In addition, timely resettlement options will be unlikely for people transferred to Malaysia if they are found to be refugees.”

Ms Branson said that the rights of children in particular needed to be protected, especially unaccompanied children potentially facing transfer.

“The Minister is the guardian of unaccompanied minors who arrive in Australia seeking asylum and he is obliged to act in their best interests. It is difficult to see how transferring unaccompanied minors to a third country could be in their best interests,” she said.

“Punishing asylum seekers is not the answer to addressing people smuggling.”

Ms Branson said it was important to remember that Australia received a small number of asylum seekers by international standards, with the UNHCR reporting that in 2010 Australia received only 2 per cent of asylum claims in industrialised countries.

“Instead of establishing third country processing, Australia should process all applications for asylum on the Australian mainland under the Migration Act,” Ms Branson said.

The Commission has held concerns for the nearly 600 people in detention on Christmas Island who have arrived since the third country transfer plans were announced in early May.

“The Commission welcomes the announcement that they will now be processed in Australia and urges the Government to ensure this happens as soon as possible,” she said.

Up to the minute information on human rights is now available on twitter at twitter.com/AusHumanRights.

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597