Australia Refugee Deal on Ice

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Australia Refugee Deal on Ice

Australia’s highest court halts a government deal with Malaysia for processing asylum seekers.

While Australian efforts to enter a swap deal with Malaysia to curb human smuggling have effectively been put on ice by its high court, the Canadians have come out and declared their own successes.

According to its authorities, as many as five smuggling operations bound for Canada’s west coast from Southeast Asia were thwarted over the past 12 months. That followed a significant boost in resources by Ottawa to combat people smugglers, including the deployment of Royal Canadian Mounties to Bangkok. The busts, seizures and arrests were in addition to the MV Alicia, intercepted by Indonesian authorities and carrying 84 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.

Close cooperation between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia also helped, and as a result smugglers have been moving their operations into other countries with a lower profile, including, apparently, even land-locked Laos.

Their success also indicates that perhaps politicians would be better off if they left the scourge of people smugglers to the police as opposed to writing legislation and striking deals.

Malaysia already has 92,000 people processed and recognized by the United Nations as legitimate refugees. From this, 4,000 people were to be granted a home in Australia in return for Malaysia accepting and processing 800 asylum seekers destined for Australian shores.

That deal, which has been well documented by The Diplomat, appears headed for legal limbo after a court order was obtained by human rights lawyer David Manne who argues that such groups have the right to have their claims assessed in Australia under the UN refugee convention.

He also argues that sending the refugees to Malaysia meant Canberra couldn’t guarantee they will be properly treated because Kuala Lumpur isn’t a signatory to the convention. As a result, the court froze the transfer of the first batch due in Australia for resettlement this week while a full bench of the court decides whether the deal is legal.

Human rights groups have sharply criticized successive Australian governments for risking the health and safety of asylum seekers and their children. Pamela Curr of the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says the deal is morally repugnant because it breaches a person’s right to asylum.

Either way, the next hearing has been scheduled for August 22, annoying the Australians – who have for years struggled to find a solution acceptable to all sides in the asylum debate – no end.

Even more irritated should be the soon-to-be-anointed Australian citizens who have already been accepted as genuine refugees and spent decades in the squalor of Malaysian refugee camps only to be told by an Australian lawyer and rights activists their deal is wrong and could be struck down.