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Refugee swap: Children getting a raw deal

 | July 28, 2011

The agreement between Australia and Malaysia was signed three days ago but sadly there is no mention of children. Their welfare and education is in a limbo.

PETALING JAYA: There is one glaring omission in the Malaysia-Australia refugee agreement. There is no mention of children – accompanied or unaccompanied.

The Human Rights Watch said they are very concerned about this one aspect that was not in the agreement.

The agreement said nothing about “best interest” determinations or other basic principles of protection for unaccompanied children under international law, only that special procedures “will be developed.”

“The agreement ignores the special needs of unaccompanied children,” said HRW refugee programme director Bill Frelick in a statement.

“Saying that implementing procedures will come later is no excuse for failing to spell out basic principles in the agreement itself.

”The agreement also says that school-age children will be permitted access to “private education”, but adds that if “such arrangements are not available or affordable” the children should have access to “informal education.” he said.

Neither private education nor informal education meet the standards for the right to free and compulsory primary education in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which both Australia and Malaysia are parties.

The Human Rights Watch also criticised Malaysia for creating double standards in treatment of the 800 as compared to the rest of the refugee and asylum seekers.

The Malaysia-Australia refugee swap was inked three days ago and under the agreement, Malaysia will accept 800 Australian refugees and in exchange 4,000 processed refugees will be sent to Australia.

“Unfortunately, the Australia-Malaysia refugee swap agreement is more about burden shirking than burden sharing,” said Frelick.

The HRW justified the above statement on the basis that the agreement failed to meet minimal standards for refugee burden-sharing.

In its letter sent to both Putrajaya and Canberra, HRW said that Malaysia’s failure to accept the obligations established by the most relevant treaty regarding refugees and to apply customary standards demonstrates the hollowness of the agreement.

“Creating an exception for 800 “swapped” people while 90,000 other refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia remain “illegal migrants” subject to deportation is unacceptable,” said Frelick.


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