Date: 
Monday 25 July 2011

a girl behind barbed wire

 

Sending asylum seekers to Malaysia is not the answer to addressing people smuggling

The Australian Human Rights Commission has expressed its concerns about sending people who claim asylum in Australia to Malaysia or other third countries.

The Commission 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.

She said this increased 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.”

She said it was important to remember that Australia received a small number of asylum seekers by international standards.

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