Malaysia-Australia Refugee Swap Deal Criticised

The refugee swap between Malaysia and Australia that was signed on July 25, 2011, has been suspended by the Australian High Court after huge criticism. Under the deal, the next 800 refugees to arrive in Australia will be sent to Malaysia, and in return Australia will take in 4,000 refugees from Malaysia in the next four years. The court has set the date of August 22 to hear a legal challenge to the swap.

Aliran, a Malaysian NGO, wrote in their blog:

Malaysia has not guaranteed human rights protection for either its own citizens, legitimate asylum seekers, refugees or any other migrants in this country, as recent events here have revealed… Aliran is dismayed that the most fundamental requirements of refugee protection, especially the basic human rights of all refugees, is not covered by the Australia-Malaysia asylum seekers-for-refugees swap deal signed on 25 July 2011 – notwithstanding that Malaysia is not a state party to the 1951 Refugees Convention.

Opposition politician Teresa Kok also criticised the deal, and was quoted in Malaysia Today (an online Malaysian news portal) as saying that “the exchange of money (USD $320mil) involved in the swap is vulgar”.

Jay Fletcher, writing in Green Left, wrote:

The Australia-Malaysia refugee “swap” deal, signed in Kuala Lumpur on July 25, further persecutes people who have escaped conflict and terror and have an international right to seek asylum in Australia.

The Australian government said the plan was intended to attack the “people smugglers’ business model”. But, in reality, it is a high-priced human trafficking deal between two governments known for discriminating against refugees.

Try Me-lah wrote in LoyarBurok that:

It is precisely due to the fear harbored in their home countries that refugees seek refuge elsewhere and in return, the countries they flee to are expected to be in compliance with treatment stated in the Convention. As a result, protection and education for refugees, especially children, remains an important part of the Convention and it is these aspects that we may fail the test under UN standards since we have not yet ratified the Convention. Similarly, Australia is seen as shirking its burdens rather than sharing it. It has given the rest of the world the impression that neither Australia nor Malaysia has signed this deal for the wellbeing of these people, but touches upon a larger issue: economic and political standing.

Human rights appear to be the biggest issue that is lobbied around. In The Conversation, Gregore Lopez wrote:

The concerns expressed by international human rights groups are justified. Malaysia’s history of human rights is simply atrocious. This is despite the fact Malaysia is an upper middle-income economy with aspirations to become a high-income economy by 2020.

The issue, however, have been kept quiet in Malaysia- the mainstream media has not published any articles on the issue, and it rarely shows up on the online media as well. On social media, this issue does not appear to catch Malaysians’ attention, either.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

After a sometimes tetchy hearing in Canberra, Justice Ken Hayne declared government plans to send all boat people to Malaysia raised “serious questions” that ought to be examined by all the judges of the court in a fortnight's time. A full frontal challenge is being mounted to the Malaysia plan. Sixteen asylum seekers on Christmas Island, represented by the lawyers David Manne and Debbie Mortimer, SC, want to argue before the full High Court that the protection due to them – and required under Australia's Migration Act – would not be available in Malaysia.

Thumbnail used is from the twitpic page of @presstvmobile. Photo of refugees protesting against deportation in Malaysia.


  • Ryan Kennedy

    My biggest question about this system of trading refugees between the two countries is, logistically, where do the refugees get situated in the nations, and what kind of government support do they receive? As an American, many refugees have been brought here and easily assimilated into the culture, but I am not familiar with the situation in Australia and Malaysia.

  • Emily Mitchell

    so im curious. how many of these migrants actually wind up entering the country? where do they end up going? this plan seems too open-ended to be stable & effective. these two countries seem overly concerned with the massive sums of money they’re involving.. $320 million? seems excessive.

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