Don't give up on deal: Malaysia
Tom Allard in Kuala Lumpur and Phillip Coorey
September 16, 2011
"If Malaysia doesn't do something, we will always be seen
as a transit country" ... Hishammuddin Hussein.
Photo: Rahman Roslan
MALAYSIA remains strongly committed to the refugee exchange with Australia, with its Home Affairs Minister criticising the Coalition's alternative of sending asylum seekers to Nauru as highly unlikely to stop human traffickers.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, Hishammuddin Hussein also vowed that any asylum seekers Australia sent to Malaysia under the plan would not be abused and that Malaysia was working to improve the treatment of refugees and illegal workers in the country.
His comments are the first by the Malaysian government since the High Court rejected the deal under which Australia would send Malaysia 800 asylum seekers in return for accepting 4000 refugees.
They come as the Gillard government appeals to the Coalition to support changes to the Migration Act to overcome the court ruling and allow it to send asylum seekers offshore.
The Herald has also learnt that the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, who will be briefed on the Migration Act changes this afternoon, is likely to demand the government support the reintroduction of temporary protection visas in return for his support.
Labor would be unable to accede, giving the Coalition an excuse to walk away from the deal, which it believes is not needed anyway, and revive its preferred Pacific solution policy.
The visas, which Labor judged cruel and inefficient, were abolished in 2008 and Ms Gillard told Parliament yesterday it was not government policy to reintroduce them.
The government needs Coalition support for the legislation, which would give Australia the discretion to send asylum seekers wherever it wished.
Labor wants to use a swift return to Malaysia as a deterrent to break people-smuggling, and Manus Island as a back-up processing centre. The opposition wants to revive the Pacific solution of processing asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island.
Immigration Department officials have warned the Pacific solution would not work again as a deterrent because asylum seekers now knew they would end up in Australia or New Zealand.
Mr Hishammuddin concurred. Nauru was not a transit country for asylum seekers like Malaysia and, as such, it would not deter people smugglers.
''Can you help me that the Nauru solution is the right solution? That people won't see Malaysia as a transit point on the way to the Nauru solution, and then on to Australia and New Zealand?'' he said. ''If Malaysia doesn't do something, we will always be seen as a transit country.''
In his strongest language yet, Mr Abbott said he was unlikely to help the government unless the changes to the Migration Act allowed the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas but not Malaysia.
''If she [Ms Gillard] wants us to support her policy she needs to take the appropriate steps. She'd better get her policy to resemble what we think is in the national interest,'' he said.
The opposition and refugee advocates have slammed Malaysia's human rights record because it is not a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention, has detained illegal immigrants and, in some cases, has caned them.
However, an understanding with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the past two years means refugees in Malaysia should live free from detention and caning.
''Are you are telling me Malaysia is so bad that we are worse than the human traffickers?'' asked Mr Hishammuddin.
''There will be a mechanism when we operationalise this. In the world these days, you cannot hide things any more. Any abuse would be displayed for the world to see instantaneously. We will have to be very careful, if we are allowed to carry on, to ensure that everything is done properly.''
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/dont-give-up-on-deal-malaysia-20110915-1kbzv.html#ixzz1YFNTDiur