Australian govt defeated over 'swap deal'

The government of Australia was dealt a humiliating blow in its bid to send asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Malaysia for detention and processing, as it lost a high court challenge earlier in the week.

The case was brought by Australian immigration lawyer, David Manne, who earlier told DVB that the plan amounted to; “a serious abrogation of responsibility for a country that has signed up to the refugees convention.”

Indeed the court ruled that Malaysia did not offer adequate protection to detainees or asylum seekers, which induced calls from Malaysian human rights activists for the country to ratify the UN’s 1951 refugee treaty and improve its human rights record, according to Reuters.

Whilst according to the BBC the verdict was greeted by clapping in an Australian detention facility on Christmas Island.

The deal, which was signed last month would have been funded by the Australian government at a cost of some AUS $300 million and was pitched by immigration Minister, Chris Bowen as a way of fighting human trafficking.

The deal would have seen 800 asylum seekers who arrived by boat after 25 July 2011 transferred to Malaysian detention facilities, whilst Australia would take 4,000 refugees who had already been processed, over 4 years.

“I feel delighted for our clients. They were petrified of being sent to Malaysia,” Manne told the Guardian newspaper.

The issue of immigration, particularly those who come by boat has been a huge political issue in Australian politics, with many critics seeing the attempted deal as a way of the Labour government of Julia Gillard attempting to woo voters from the right-wing Liberal Party.

Chris Bowen however told the Guardian newspaper that; “We’ve had the people smugglers in retreat. Now, today’s decision is a significant blow, but it does not undermine my or the government’s determination to break the people smugglers’ model.”

One of the key areas of contention that Manne brought to the high court was the issue of deporting unaccompanied minors. His argument being that Bowen, as immigration minister was legally the guardian of unaccompanied minors in detention in Australia.

As Manne told DVB, Bowen; “has the duty to at all times to act in these children’s’ best interests.”

“How can it be in their best interests to be expelled to Malaysia instead of being allowed to stay in Australia and seek protection in Australia?”

Manne outlined serious concerns about Malaysian detention centres with detainees regularly complain of poor conditions in Malaysian detention facilities.

Australia received some 8,250 asylum applications last year, compared with US’ over 55,000. Some commentators however have said that the deal would have been good for Burmese asylum seekers in Malaysia, as many of those detained in Malaysian facilities would comprise the approximately 1,000 per year extra in take.

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