Australia’s plan to send asylum seekers to Malaysia was yesterday hit with a legal challenge, with a refugee lawyer seeking an injunction stopping the transfer of the first group to the Asian nation.
As the government confirmed that some of the 50 or so boatpeople due to be removed within days under the controversial refugee swap were refusing food, lawyer David Manne said he had launched proceedings in the High Court.
“This is about life or death matters and our clients are challenging the government’s power to expel them to Malaysia, where they fear they will not be protected and they are at real risk of harm,” Manne said.
Australia plans to send up to 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for accepting 4,000 registered refugees from that country over four years under a deal designed to stop boatpeople from landing in Australia.
Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre in Melbourne, said he was representing 41 of the 55 asylum seekers who arrived by boat in Australia last week and who had been expected to leave for Malaysia within days.
“Australian law requires that their claims for refugee protection should be considered here in Australia instead of expelling them to Malaysia,” he said.
However,the government said it was prepared for protests and legal challenges and vowed the deal would go ahead despite concerns among rights campaigners that Malaysia has not signed up to the UN convention on refugees.
“We are determined to implement this,” Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told Channel Ten ahead of the legal challenge yesterday. “People who come to Australia by boat can work on the basis that they will be returned to Malaysia, regardless of any protest activity.”
Two boats carrying a total of more than 100 suspected asylum seekers, including children, have arrived in Australia since the deal was signed.
The immigration department confirmed that some from the first boat, which arrived at Australia’s remote Indian Ocean detention center on Christmas Island two days ago, were rejecting meals.
“A small number of the group that arrived on Friday have now missed consecutive meals,” a spokeswoman said.