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Child asylum seekers traveling alone to Australia would be sent to Malaysia as part of the government's so-called Malaysia solution, according to a report.
Child asylum seekers traveling alone to Australia would be sent to Malaysia — which has not signed the United Nations Convention on Human Rights and has a history of caning asylum seekers — as part of the government's so-called Malaysia solution, according to a report.
In May, Australia agreed on a refugee swap with Malaysia that would see Australia resettle 4,000 Malaysian-based refugees in return for Malaysia accepting 800 asylum seekers.
The final deal between the two countries has not been signed, but according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), a document written by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) a day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the deal read: "AUL [Australia] doesn't want to provide exceptions for UAMS [unaccompanied minors] and vulnerable individuals for fear if [sic] this being a pull factor exploited by smugglers."
The UNHCR is reportedly also concerned that the deal could break Australia's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. "The level and standard of protection for the group of 800 may not meet required human rights standards," UNHCR Canberra representative Richard Towle reportedly said.
However, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said that Malaysia gave assurances that asylum seekers would have their human rights respected.
Refugee and Immigration Legal center co-ordinator David Manne told AAP that Malaysia was showing much reluctance to commit to human right standards and guarantees.
"For example, in the document refugees are referred to as illegal immigrants," Manne said. "There's no reference to the word asylum seeker. There's certainly no reference to human rights."
On the issue of children, meanwhile, Bowen said that Australia wanted to send a strong message to people smugglers by sending unaccompanied minors to Malaysia, the ABC reports.
"I don't want unaccompanied minors, I don't want children to come to Australia thinking or knowing that there is some sort of exemption in place," he told ABC Television yesterday. "I never want to go through, and I never want our nation to go through, what we went through in December and in the months following burying children as a result of a boat accident. It is inevitable that will occur again unless we break the people smuggler's business model."
A member of the Greens Party in the Senate, Sarah Hanson-Young, reportedly said that Bowen had a special responsibility for unaccompanied asylum-seeker children.
"The Minister forgets that he is legally the guardian of unaccompanied minors people," she said, the ABC reports. "The Minister for the sake of a political quick-fix is prepared to expend the rights and obligations he should be offering to these very, very vulnerable children."
Hanson-Young said that specific protections for human rights were also needed in the final deal between Australia and Malaysia.
"Human rights has been deleted from the document in negotiation with Malaysia; human rights is not clearly the bottom line for either Malaysia or, you would have to argue, Australia."
According to the UNHCR document, Malaysia also wants to be able to reject any of the the 800 people that Australia sends there, and that it wants Australia to cover nearly all the costs of the swap.