Asylum seekers who arrive by boat after midnight July 25 will be deported to Malaysia, under the deal signed by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Malaysian Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein. Bowen says this is a win for Malaysia, a win for Australia and a loss for the people smugglers. Tellingly he makes no mention of the rights of the asylum seekers who are the victims.

The deal allows 800 asylum seekers to be sent to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 UNHCR refugees being re-settled in Australia over four years. Malaysian human rights activists were outside the hotel to denounce the deal as it was signed.

Bowen says the deal is about “breaking the people smugglers’ business model”, as if there was such a thing. Refugees use people smugglers because they have no choice.

The talk about people smugglers is nothing more than an attempt to criminalise the asylum seekers themselves. The Labor government wants to divert attention from the stark reality that it is trying to outdo Abbott and Morrison and slam the door on asylum seekers.The finalised Malaysia refugee swap deal was not signed by the UN refugee agency as promised

Disgracefully, Bowen and Gillard are also seeking a deal with Papua New Guinea to warehouse asylum seekers on Manus Island, the twin detention centre to Nauru under Howard’s Pacific Solution.

Prime Minister Gillard claims that the UNHCR will have a strong role to play in the Malaysia deal’s implementation, but it is not a signatory to it. The Operational Guidelines say that the advisory committee to the agreement will include UNHCR and IOM representatives—“subject to their agreement”—but the UNHCR has not agreed. Not that the deal stands or falls on the UNHCR’s agreement. The deal fundamentally violates the rights of 800 asylum seekers.

The Australian government says that returned asylum seekers will have access to basic education and health services. Not really. Unless they can afford private education, all returnees will have are the meagre “informal” education and health arrangements of UNHCR or IOM.

The Gillard government insists that there are no exemptions for minors or families. Potentially the Minister, the supposed guardian of unaccompanied minors, will be responsible for condemning widowed mothers, children and teenagers to the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Similarly, the much-hyped right to work, referred to as “self reliance opportunities” in the Agreement means little in the context of the realities of Malaysian society.  The right to work doesn’t actually mean anyone will have a job that can support a family. They will be just as vulnerable as others forced to live on the margins of Malaysian society. There is a very real risk that the deportees will be even more likely to be preyed upon and be vulnerable to harassment if police believe they might have money.

Gregore Lopez, researcher in Malaysian economics at ANU writes, “They will be vulnerable to state agencies who are corrupt, violent and antagonistic towards immigrant communities.”

It is absurd to believe that the Malaysian government responsible for arresting 1600 democracy activists (see p13) will do anything to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers sent from Australia.

Australia could easily take another 4000 refugees from Malaysia without holding them hostage to deporting 800 just as deserving asylum seekers.

Shamefully, the parliamentary convenors of the Labor Left and Fremantle MP Melissa Parke have already declared their support for the deal, despite earlier saying that any deal should have the approval of the UNHCR.

But Labor for Refugees has very publicly condemned it, insisting that it violates Labor policy. Amnesty International, too, has voiced its opposition.

In Sydney, around 200 people held a protest at Villawood detention centre the day before the deal, opposing the Malaysia solution and mandatory detention. Protests are set to grow.

Contact the Refugee Action group in your state, see http://refugeeaction.org.au

By Ian Rintoul

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