Malay-Aussie Refugee Swap Deal Made Invalid
02 September 2011 – KUALA LUMPUR: The controversial refugee swap deal between Malaysian and Australian governments has reached a dead end as Australia’s high court ruled that it should be terminated because the rights of asylum seekers could not be guaranteed.
The court found that Malaysia was not legally bound to protect the rights of asylum seekers under the agreement which was signed by both countries in July 2011.
The ruling means victory for non-government organizations (NGO) which fight against the deal, but not for many refugees staying in Malaysia.
Although there are different views among refugee groups on this issue, most Burmese refugees in Malaysia however hope the swap deal will open more resettlement opportunities for them in Australia.
International media reported that Australia will still have to accept the 4,000 confirmed refugees from Malaysia, but the threshold is high enough for new badge of refugees.
Under the initial deal, Australia will send 800 asylum seekers detained in the country to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 verified refugees.
Constitutional law specialists from Australia said the swap deal could only be revived if Malaysia signed the United Nations Refugee Convention, which is quite unlikely to happen in a near future.
With a moderate population of 28 millions, Malaysia is housing approaching one million refugees/asylum seekers and up to three million of legal and illegal foreign workers.
Since independence in 1957, Malaysian government was rather doubtful with the influx of refugees from Vietnam, southern Philippines, Aceh (Indonesia) and now Burma.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reiterated several times that Malaysia is not ready to sign the United Nations Refugee Convention because it will put extra burden for the government to take care of big number of foreign refugees.
Reporting by Thomas Chong