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UNHCR avoiding its responsibility to refugees – Australian and Malaysian refugee advocates

The UNHCR is completely misguided in offering any support whatsoever for the Malaysia refugee swap, according to Australian and Malaysian refugee advocates.

Richard Towle, Australian head of the UNHCR, was reported in the Fairfax press today as stating that ‘the assurances of legal stay and community-based reception’ in the Malaysia deal ‘can be seen as a more positive protection environment’ than detention in Australia, ‘provided the assurances are carefully monitored’.

‘How Richard Towle can find a way to support the government and the Malaysia Agreement at this juncture is a complete mystery. At best he is guilty of wishful thinking, at worst his comments are ill-informed and irresponsible. There has been no law change in Malaysia and refugees are just as vulnerable as ever," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

‘Detention in Australia is an abomination and must be put to an end. But supporting the Malaysia swap is no way to achieve a more humane refugee policy.’

‘People come to Australia because there is no prospect of safe resettlement in South-East Asia. The Malaysia deal would make Australia complicit with the persecution of refugees in Malaysia, where there is no control over how they are treated.’

‘It is absurd to believe that Malaysia’s assurances of humane treatment can be ‘carefully monitored’ ’’, Rintoul continued. ‘The UNHCR itself is chronically unable to cope with the more than 90000 registered refugees in Malaysia.’

“The only members of the confirmed oversight committee proposed to police the deal are Australian and Malaysian officials, and the text of the arrangement has practically no details of how implementation will be monitored. There is no guarantee that safeguards will be met.’

‘Julia Gillard’s amendments to the Migration Act to allow the Malaysia agreement must be defeated,’ said Rintoul.

Malaysian advocate criticizes Towle

Malaysia has been universally condemned for its treatment of refugees. Angeline Loh, from the Malaysian human rights organzation Aliran, presently touring Australia is sharply critical of UNHCR’s support for the Malaysia deal.

‘How can Richard Towle be so sure that asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia will be safe when there has been no evidence that the Malaysia government's pledges will be put into practice?’, she asked.

‘There has been no legislation passed to amend the [Malaysian] Immigration Act or to recognize asylum seekers and refugees or the human right to seek asylum’. Refugees in Malaysia will continue to be caned, and no document issued by Malaysian authorities will prevent this, she said.

‘UNHCR seems to be trying to avoid its role and responsibility in overseeing and directing refugee protection in lending support to a bilateral agreement that does not guarantee refugee protection by trivializing the importance of the inherent human rights of refugees’, Loh continued

‘Why doesn't UNHCR openly support the calls by Malaysian NGOs that the Government ratifies the 1951 Refugee Convention instead of the "Malaysian Solution" which will not solve the problems of human trafficking or people smugglers?’

Loh will be among a number of high-profile speakers addressing a public demonstration in Sydney at midday this Saturday at Town Hall Square.

For more information, contact Ian Rintoul (Refugee Action Coalition) 0417 275 713 or Angeline Loh (ALIRAN) 0402 580 103

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