Australian PM Gillard lambasted for latest asylum plan

15:51, May 10, 2011      

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The Australian Prime Minister is facing fresh criticism over her latest offshore solution to deal with Australia's inflammatory issue of illegal immigrants.

Julia Gillard's government has struck a deal with Malaysia to take 800 refugees, picked up in boats heading for the Australian coast.

The deal has been lambasted from all sides of the debate, with Amnesty International holding grave concerns for any so-called asylum seekers sent to Malaysia under Gillard's new deal.

Amnesty International Australia's refugee spokesman, Graham Thom told Xinhua, "Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and an Amnesty International report released just last year documented serious human rights abuses against refugees."

The deal aims to sink the influx of boats in the short term by deterring asylum seekers considering crossing the ocean to Australia.

"If they arrive at Christmas Island, they can go back to the end of a very, very long queue in Malaysia," the Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, told reporters Moday in Canberra.

The Malaysia deal will see Australia accept and resettle 4,000 apparently genuine Burmese refugees who are currently being processed in Malaysia's sub-standard detention centres.

The Opposition reveled in the government's dilemma, with Liberal leader Tony Abbott telling a press conference just outside Canberra, "There is no Malaysian solution. Let's see the Malaysian solution, then you can ask us that question."

The influential Greens party will likely challenge the deal with specific legislation, supported by left wing lobby groups such as the Get Up coalition that brings together experts in international law.

The government has squirmed over the issue, dropping the idea of a detention centre in East Timor, while is reportedly re- establishing a center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Thom says Gillard's scheme is far from an acceptable situation. He said, "We have a country like Australia that has signed the Convention sending people to a country that hasn't signed the Convention, and where we know refugee protection is deeply problematic."

Australian policy is to arrest and detain all so-called boat- people who risk their lives by putting themselves in the hands of people-smugglers.

Most of these detainees are held at offshore facilities like the notorious Christmas Island detention center which has been the scene of riots and breakouts since November last year.

While the number of refugees arriving in Australia is negligible, especially in comparison to European states who have borne the brunt of the recent North African unrest, the issue continually inflames passions on all sides of the political spectrum.

Although Amnesty International welcomes the move to resettle 4000 extra refugees from Malaysia, Thom says Australia has a long way to go to live up to its responsibilities as a signatory of the International Refugee Convention.

"This latest deal by Australia seriously undermines this central principle of international law, and sets a bad example for the region... There is no 'queue'. It is completely nonsensical to take asylum seekers who have entered Malaysia's territory to claim asylum, but not those who are trying to enter Australia's territory -- when we are the country that has signed the Refugee Convention," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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