THE deal labelled a win-win for Malaysia and Australia in dealing with people smuggling and asylum seekers has been slammed by the Malaysian Bar.
The professional body representing Malaysian lawyers and barristers is opposed to the recently-announced arrangement agreed to between the Governments, it said in a statement today. It said the plan is a "misguided approach for dealing with a complex issue with serious ramification".
"As we understand the arrangement, Australia will send to Malaysia 800 asylum seekers who have been detained by the Australian authorities. In return, Australia commits itself to accepting for resettlement 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia, over a period of four years," Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee said.
"It is irresponsible of Australia, as a State Party to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted on 28 July 1951, and its 1967 Protocol, to abdicate its international obligations under the Convention."
The Malaysian Bar said that through the deal, Australia is consigning 800 people to "a life of uncertainty and probable suffering, given that Malaysia is not a State Party to that Convention".
It said Malaysian law does not recognise the concept of asylum seekers or refugees. "Instead, it treats all undocumented persons as “illegal immigrants”, and subjects them to imprisonment and whipping," Lim Chee Wee said.
Australian immigration minister Chris Bowen told ABC News there are implementation details still remaining, "but it's a commitment to enter into an agreement".
Australia is paying $292 million as part of the arrangement, fully funding the deal. Malaysia, meanwhile, will assist Australia to break the business model of the people smugglers, Bowen said.
"It's also appropriate that Malaysia, who has 92,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in its country, that we assist them in that with a greater degree of burden sharing across the region and that Australia can play a greater role. So this is a win for Malaysia. It's also a win for Australia," Bowan said.
Bowan said Malaysia has made a commitment to Australia that they will comply with the basic principle of the UN convention on refugees, "which is they will not return people to persecution where they're in need of international protection. They've also made a commitment to treat people with dignity and respect".
But the Malaysian Bar says it is "untenable" that Australia proposes to “pass the buck” for the protection, care and support of asylum seekers to Malaysia, "when Malaysia has no comprehensive and organised system to provide assistance to asylum seekers or refugees".
"As it is, Malaysia is already home to almost 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have been registered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur. None of these asylum seekers and refugees is provided with any material or financial help by the Malaysian Government for housing, jobs, education or health care.
"Because Malaysia has not acceded to the Convention, there are currently no legislative or administrative provisions in place for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers or refugees in the country. They exist in a shadow society in which they have no legal rights, and even less protection and security. They live in constant fear of the authorities – the police, immigration personnel and Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (“RELA”) members," the Malaysian Bar president said.
He said the legal situation and conditions of life of asylum seekers and refugees and their families in Malaysia is "degrading, demeaning and dehumanising, and wholly unacceptable to any civilised society".
The Malaysian Bar suggests that, instead, its Government establish a comprehensive framework for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers and refugees who are already in that country, and begin by according asylum seekers due legal recognition.
"Malaysia must also demonstrate a proven track record of upholding human rights to the highest possible standards."