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TALKS TO REVIVE 'MALAYSIAN SOLUTION' REFUGEE DEAL FAIL


KUALA LUMPUlR, Malaysia — Negotiations between the Australia’s Labor government and the Coalition to revive the refugee swap deal with Malaysia have failed after the opposition pact insisted asylum-seekers sent to Malaysia are given “the protection of law” rather than just Putrajaya’s assurances.
Malaysia has continued to stress the importance of the asylum swap, known as the Malaysia Solution, as a model for combating human trafficking.
The deal, which would have seen Australia send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and accept 4,000 refugees in exchange, was ruled invalid by Australia’s High Court in August 2011 because Malaysia has not signed a United Nations refugee convention.
  • The Australian newspaper reported today that talks “aimed at ending the impasse over asylum policy have failed” after the newspaper obtained letters between Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his shadow Scott Morrison which show that “no headway on the matter has been made” after more than a month.
  • “Morrison... ruled out any prospect of horse-trading policies, saying the Coalition was not prepared to abandon long-held principles ‘as a condition for the government to embrace the Coalition’s proven measures’,” the broadsheet wrote.
  • According to the national daily, Bowen wrote to Morrison yesterday demanding clarification on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s insistence on returning all boats arriving from Indonesia.
  • “It is difficult to reconcile your alleged concern with the enforceability of protections in the Malaysia agreement with Mr Abbott’s new policy position of blanket returns to Indonesia,” the Australian cited the minister as saying.
  • It also reported Labor offered to build additional safeguards into its Malaysia deal to mollify opposition concerns about human rights abuses.
The safeguards included giving asylum-seekers a “hotline” to United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff in case they were mistreated in Malaysia and providing them with dedicated UNHCR caseworkers to arrange medical care, counselling and contact with their families.
The government would also be willing to establish a parliamentary committee that would monitor the treatment of asylum-seekers sent to Malaysia, Papua New Guinea or Nauru, the Australian reported.
  • But the opposition has demanded “the protection of the law, not committees and hotlines.”
  • With Canberra agreeing to pick up the RM1 billion bill for the swap, the Gillard administration’s popularity has sunk under pressure from opposition leaders and human rights activists in both Pacific nations.
  • Attempts by Gillard’s administration to amend the Migration Act to circumvent the court decision were thwarted after the opposition refused to back the legislation unless Malaysia was disqualified due to doubts over its human rights record.
  • Gillard’s minority government relies on support from a Green and three independent members of Parliament for a one-seat majority, but the Greens opposed the Malaysia plan and Gillard was unable to convince any opposition MPs to support the change.
Malaysia’s Home Ministry has also since moved to secure a similar deal with Myanmar that has come under fire from activists and opposition leaders who say it will expose Myanmar refugees to persecution when they are sent home.
The UNHCR office in Australia had also said that asylum seekers would get better protection in Malaysia under the so-called “Malaysia Solution” than if held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia.
Source: The Malaysian Insider
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