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Australia Greens, refugee advocates condemns plan to change migration law

(Xinhua)

09:24, September 13, 2011

CANBERRA, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- Australian federal government's plan to amend the migration law to legalize the offshore processing of asylum seekers has been condemned by politicians, refugee advocates and international law experts.

The government's power to send asylum seekers to third countries for processing was thrown into doubt by last month's High Court verdict that ruled the swap deal with Malaysia unlawful.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday announced the government would next week introduce amendments to both the Migration Act and the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act to circumvent the ruling and restore offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Greens leader Bob Brown said his party would not support the legislation or any Coalition amendments, describing Gillard as "out of touch with the Australian people".

The Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul called the government's decision disgraceful.

"The Gillard government has missed another opportunity to put human rights at the front of its refugee policy," Rintoul said in a statement released on Monday.

"As it slides in the polls, it seems determined to take asylum seekers' rights down with it."

Amnesty International Australia (AIA) said it was extremely disappointed with the decision to try and resurrect the Malaysia deal.

In a statement, AIA refugee coordinator Graham Thom said the government is trying to water down human-rights protections for some of the world's most vulnerable people, including children, by changing the migration law.

He said amending the Migration Act would effectively give governments a blank cheque to send asylum seekers to any third country regardless of its human-rights record.

While Gillard said the Malaysia Solution will help to smash people smuggling rings, Refugee Council of Australia CEO, Paul Power, said there was no guarantee that sending asylum seekers to Malaysia would deter others.

"In a region where protection is scarce, we cannot know how many asylum seekers may continue to risk boat journeys to Australia in the forlorn hope that our country won't turn them away in their time of need," Power said in a statement released on Monday.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance also said the changes could put asylum seekers' lives in danger.

Meanwhile, Australian National University international law expert, Donald Rothwell, warned that the federal government's plan to amend the law could prove tricky to execute.

He said while the changes to the Migration Act will prove relatively simple, the changes to the other act could be tougher.

"While it may be possible to make clear that declarations under the Migration Act prevail between the two acts, there are also certain common-law obligations of guardianship upon the minister in the case of minors whose parents are not exercising control," Professor Rothwell was quoted by Australia Associated Press as saying.

The minority government will need the support of the Coalition to get the changes through parliament, because the Greens oppose the plan.

Under the Malaysian deal, Australia wants to send 800 people who arrive by boat to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 processed refugees.

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