First test looms for Malaysia asylum solution
Mark Dodd and Paul Maley
From: The Australian July 27, 2011
THE first asylum-seekers who will be sent to Malaysia under the refugee swap deal were last night thought to be already on their way to the Australian territory of Christmas Island.
The Australian has been told Border Protection Command had information on Monday that at least one boat could have left Indonesia for Christmas Island.
The 380km journey from Java to Christmas Island has been known to take as little as 30 hours in a fast boat with GPS. But some asylum-seekers have told The Australian they were at sea for as many as 11 days from Indonesia trying to reach the Australian territory. News of the first boatload of asylum-seekers to be subjected to the terms of the Gillard government's deal with Malaysia came as Labor supporters angered by the deal vowed to take a policy to the ALP's national conference in December that would ensure asylum-seekers were processed in Australia.
Labor for Refugees (Victoria) is a rank-and-file party group with more than 180 members supported by several federal MPs. About 75 state branches are affiliated with the group and former ALP national president Barry Jones is a member.
Secretary Robin Rothfield, a member of the party's socialist Left faction, said yesterday the refugee deal was a repudiation of traditional Labor values and needed to be changed.
"If ministers can so blatantly ignore the party platform, what is the point of having a national conference -- writing up a platform -- when they're just going to ignore it?" Mr Rothfield said.
Under the Malaysia deal, Australia will be able to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in return for 4000 UN-assessed refugees over the next four years.
Malaysian government sources yesterday told The Australian responsibility for organising the transit accommodation to be used to house transferred asylum-seekers for the first 45 days of their stay rested with the Australian government.
The Australian has been told three sites are under consideration. One is a former hotel, described by one official as "run down". All three sites are in the vicinity of Kuala Lumpur and its airport. But as The Australian reported on Monday, the government has yet to sign a single lease for any of the transit facilities.
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International yesterday slammed the deal, warning that refugees in Malaysia are "frequently caged in appalling conditions, exploited and caned".
In Malaysia, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen played down safety concerns saying Malaysian authorities would uphold protection guarantees for asylum-seekers sent by Australia.
"With the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration, they'll move into the community," Mr Bowen said. "They will have the right to self-reliance, including work rights, they'll have the right for children to attend schools and they'll have the right to basic healthcare. And they'll receive Australia and Malaysia identification to establish their legal right to be in Malaysia, as is very clear in the arrangement."
The Law Council of Australia remained unconvinced. "There are significant shortcomings . . . in particular a lack of detail about unaccompanied minors and legal assistance for transferees," it said.