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Malaysia solution pros and cons

  • 27 July 2011

Australia, a founding signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and Malaysia, a long time sceptic of international human rights instruments, have now signed an agreement under which unvisaed asylum seekers heading for Australia by sea will be removed to Malaysia for processing. The agreement is legal. It has the approval of UNHCR — the world's pragmatic, resource-stretched agency charged with advocating for refugees.

The deal has some upsides, and some downsides.

First the upsides: 4000 proven refugees who have been waiting a long time in Malaysia for resettlement will find a permanent home in Australia within the next four years. And they will not displace any other persons, given that our humanitarian intake will be increased to 14,750 per annum. Those asylum seekers who had reached Australia before the signing of this agreement will now be processed in Australia, and if found to be refugees, will be offered a permanent home here.

The next 800 boat people who head for Australia will be taken to Malaysia for processing. This sends a clear message to people smugglers and their clients: 'There is no point leaving Indonesia, because you will just end up in Malaysia with no chance of preferential treatment during the processing of your claim.' The agreement states: 'No transferee should be given any preferential treatment in the order of processing their claims in Malaysia and ... they should receive no processing advantage (including access to resettlement) as a result of having undertaken irregular migration to Australia.'

Despite the repeated claims in the Australian media, advocates of John Howard's Pacific Solution could no longer be assured that they could send a clear message to Indonesian boat owners and asylum seekers waiting in Indonesia. Why? Because most of those proved to be refugees under the Pacific Solution ended up in Australia or New Zealand. Presumably those found to be refugees in Malaysia will not end up here, or at least not for a very, very long time.

While awaiting processing, those transferred to Malaysia will be held in detention for about 45 days only, then released into the community. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will provide them with a month's accommodation and assistance. They will have access to 'self reliance opportunities particularly through employment'. So they will be no worse off than they would have been had they remained waiting in Indonesia.

Now the downsides.

Australia, an island nation continent surrounded by neighbours most