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Malaysia is ‘safer’, says UN refugee agency

 | October 12, 2011

The Australian parliament will decide tomorrow on whether or not to bypass a High Court ruling declaring the Malaysia-Australia refugee swap agreement as invalid.

KUALA LUMPUR: The contentious Malaysian-Australian refugee swap deal has received the unlikely support of the United Nations. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was a “safer and better” deal.

Voicing their support for the deal, the UNHCR reportedly said that Malaysia offered asylum seekers better protection when compared to indefinite mandatory detention in Australia.

“‘In the context of the Malaysian arrangements, the assurances of legal stay and community-based reception for all transferees can be seen as a more positive protection environment than protracted – and in some cases indefinite – detention that many face here in Australia, provided the assurances are carefully monitored,” the UNHCR’s regional representative, Richard Towle in response to an Australian parliamentary inquiry.

Under the deal labelled “The Malaysian Solution”, Malaysia will send 800 refugees and asylum seekers to Australia in exchange for 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Australia.

This exchange is to be completed within four years.

The deal has drawn flak from other human rights groups who alleged that Malaysia had a consistently bad record in the treatment of refugee and asylum seekers.

Despite protests from the Australian’s opposition, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority- government’s administration was adamant in pushing the deal through.

However the deal met a stumbling block on Aug 31 when the Australian High Court declared that the agreement was invalid. It noted that Canberra could not ensure protection for asylum seekers sent to Malaysia.

The Australian parliament which is currently in session will decide tomorrow on a controversial legislation to bypass this High Court decision.

Cooperation with Australia will continue

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein when commenting on the matter in parliament today said that UNHCR’s support for the swap deal showed that it was an innovative way to deal with the issue within the existing framework.

“It is now up to the legal interpretation and political will (to implement the deal),” he said.

Like their Australian counterparts, Putrajaya has been very keen in seeing the deal through.

When asked to comment on the possibility that the deal could be blocked by the Australian parliament on Thursday, Hishammuddin said that Australian domestic politics will not affect Malaysia as the two countries will continue to corporate on transnational crime.

“This deal is part of a larger plan to combat transnational crime. This deal is part of a bigger picture.

“Malaysia and the Australian government will continue to corporate, we can share intelligence, technology, surveillance (information) … (If this deal does not go through), life goes on,” he said.

Hishammuddin has always stated that the swap deal was done with the consultation of UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

However, this is the first time that UNHCR has come out in defense of the deal.

Earlier in parliament, Hishammuddin was asked if the Australian High Court decision would effect Malaysia’s image internationally.

“No. The court in no way decided whether the treaty was legal or illegal. The Australian High Court only issued a permanent injunction”.


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