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Refugee swap deal: Activists stage protest

 | July 25, 2011

Touted by both governments as a measure against human trafficking, the apparent one-time agreement would witness an exchange of refugees between the two countries.


KUALA LUMPUR: Some 20 human rights activists protested against a controversial refugee swap deal to be signed between Malaysia and Australia today.

Women’s rights group Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez opposed the agreement, calling it a “sham deal.”

“The whole swap for me is a trade in human beings… The justification that this (deal) will stop human trafficking is rubbish,” she said.

Among those who gathered outside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel here, where the deal was being signed, included those from Lawyers for Liberty and PKR Batu MP Tian Chua.

Touted by both governments as a measure against human trafficking, the apparent one-time agreement would witness an exchange of refugees between the two countries.

Malaysia would receive 800 refugees held by the Australians, while the latter would resttle 4,000 refugees currently residing in Malaysia.

The plan however met with fierce opposition in both countries, with some citing a lack of transparency.

Sending a wrong message


Fernandez also questioned the plan’s expenses, which have been estimated to cost Australia more than AU$300 million over the next four years.

Malaysia on the other hand, is not expected to fork out any money over the exchange.

“The Australian government is giving AU$300 million to the Malaysian government. I suspect this will be to take care of the 800 (refugees).”

“How they will use this (money), we do not know,” she said.

PKR supreme council member Latheefa Koya meanwhile lashed out at Australia for inking the deal with Malaysia.

She said that Australia was in no position to talk terms with Malaysia which has refused to sign the 1951 UN Refugees Convention that ultimately recognizes asylum seekers.

“(Australia) has an obligation to accept, receive and process asylum seekers,” Latheefa, who is also a member of the Lawyers for Liberty, said.

This deal, she added, sent a message to boat people fleeing to Australia, telling them to stay away.

Malaysia does not officially recognize refugees or asylum seekers. Instead, the government tends to lump them together with illegal immigrants, denying them any assistance or recognition.

Human Rights Watch for Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said that the deal may have unintended consequences in the future, especially for other Asian states.

“The talk in the neighborhood will be ‘Hey, if Australia can do it, why can’t we?’ Nothing spreads as fast among Asian governments as a bad idea they think can justify abusing human rights,” he said.

Also read:

Malaysia-bound refugees to be selected tonight

Refugee swap with Australia is people laundering


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