Australia yesterday defended its plan to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia as an important signal to people smugglers, as refugee advocates slammed the proposal as cruel and ineffective.
Australia wants to send 800 boat people to Malaysia for processing as part of a one-off deal which the government hopes will be a first step in developing a regional solution.
However, the Refugee Action Coalition said the plan would not stop thousands of asylum seekers from risking their lives on perilous boat journeys to Australia each year.
“No-one when they set out from Afghanistan or Iraq knows what the detail is of how they are going to be treated in Malaysia and Indonesia or Australia for that matter,” coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said.
Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown also denounced the proposal, which would see the country take 4,000 people already deemed to be refugees by the UN and send them to Malaysia for resettlement, as “inhumane.”
Brown said the government and the conservative opposition both supported “punitive and cruel approaches towards people and their families who are trying to seek refuge in this country and escaping from oppressive situations overseas.”
Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Wayne Swan defended the proposal, saying it would act as a deterrent to people-smuggling in Asia.
“This will send a really clear message to the people smugglers and to all of those in the pipeline — if they get on a boat, they could be at the end of a very, very long queue in Malaysia,” Swan told the Nine Network.
Swan said the Malaysia deal was “not the end of our arrangements” as Canberra seeks to stem the tide of boat people — many from Afghanistan and Iran and traveling via Indonesia — arriving in Australian waters.
The opposition, which while in government had turned back asylum seeker boats and processed potential refugees in impoverished Papua New Guinea and Nauru under its so-called “Pacific Solution,” also attacked the plan.
“This is trading human beings,” Liberal Party spokesman Joe Hockey told ABC TV. “Quite frankly, it illustrates the fact this government has no sense of having a consistent policy on border protection,” he added.