Refugee advocates concerned over Australian plan for asylum seekers

By Brianne Yantz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

CANBERRA, Australia – Human rights advocates are criticizing the Australian government for its proposed refugee “swap” with Malaysia. The plan, announced May 7, provides for 800 of Australia’s asylum seekers to be transferred to Malaysia for processing, and in return for Australia to accept 4,000 individuals from Malaysia whom the United Nations has certified as refugees.


Child Refugees in Malaysian Detention Center (Photo Courtesy of the Herald Sun)
Child Refugees in Malaysian Detention Center. (Photo Courtesy of the Herald Sun)

Supporters of the agreement argue that the purpose of the plan is to deter unlawful immigration, as thousands of people illegally enter Australia each year.  According to the New York Times, Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, stated the agreement “will be a big blow to those who are involved in the evil trade of people smuggling.”

The two nations have extremely different standards for treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.  Critics of the plan have voiced concerns regarding the welfare of refugees who may be shipped to Malaysia under the agreement.  As a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Australia has laws and procedures to protect and ensure civilized treatment of asylum seekers.  Conversely, Malaysia is not a signatory of the Refugee Convention, nor does it have any refugee laws or screening procedures.  Malaysia has also been known to detain asylum seekers under degrading and inhumane conditions.

Bill Frelick, Refugee Program Director at Human Rights Watch, voiced concern that “the Australia-Malaysia deal may encourage governments to shirk their obligations under the Refugee Convention by transferring asylum seekers to countries that have not ratified the convention.”  Appealing to Australia’s legal and ethical obligations, Frelick further stated, “Australia should not unload asylum seekers on a country known to be hostile to refugees.”

Opposition to the plan has grown stronger since it was announced that an undetermined number of unaccompanied children would be among the 800 sent to Malaysia.  Critics contend that sending children to a country that is known to aggressively mistreat refugees goes against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which Australia is obliged to act in a child asylum seekers’ best interests.

Concerns run deep for the future safety of these children, particularly the young girls.  In Malaysia there is extensive documentation that unaccompanied females become victims of sexual violence and harassment.  Critics believe the proposed plan will likely subject women seeking asylum in Malaysia to such dangers.

Although the grievances aired have not yet halted negotiations, the United Nations has been highly critical of the proposed agreement and the Australian Senate recently passed a motion calling on the government to abandon the plan.

For more information, please see:

The Australian – Refugees live in a world of fear – June 4, 2011

AP – Australia criticized over child asylum seeker plan – June 2, 2011

BBC News – Australia will send children to Malaysia in asylum deal – June 2, 2011

New York Times – Asian Refugees’ Advocates Worry About Migrant Deal – June 2, 2011

Human Rights Watch – Australia: End Threat of Tawdry Refugee Trade – May 26, 2011

Death Over Repatriation

By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

SYDNEY, Australia – A FIJI man died in detention center in Australia just hours before he was to be deported to Fiji. Immigration authorities are investigating the death of Josefa Rauluni, who refugee advocates say jumped from a roof after his plea to stay in Australia failed.

Refugee advocate Sara Nathan said three Tamil asylum-seekers were also staging a roof-top protest at Villawood and threatened to jump off, only a day after Rauluni’s death.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship reported that Rauluni, the 36-year-old Fijian national had been held in Villawood since August 17. 

On Sunday, September 17, Rauluni wrote to the New South Wales Ministerial Intervention Unit after receiving notice that he will soon be deported. In the letter, he expressed, “I cannot describe my utter disappointment with your decision,” and asked to delay his return to Fiji and said if he was to be deported to Fiji “then send my dead body.”

“He was given deportation papers this morning,” Ms Nathan said.

“About 15 minutes before he was due to be handcuffed, he climbed the building where he pleaded to be allowed to stay in Australia, even if it is in detention, as he feared persecution if he returned.”

“It is time Australia processed asylum-seeker applications and gave asylum to genuine refugees rather than rejecting them for political gains,” she said.

Rauluni’s death follows a string of suicide attempts and hunger strikes in Australian detention centres this year.

In March up to 100 detainees went on a hunger strike in the Villawood centre following the suicide attempt of a Chinese detainee.

Also, earlier this month more than 80 asylum seekers broke out of a detention centre in Darwin to protest at poor conditions of the centre.

NSW Greens senator-elect Lee Rhiannon said the incident proved the federal government needed to “immediately revisit” its refugee policy.

“The tragic death this morning of a young man from Fiji underlines the suffering many asylum- seekers are experiencing because of the inhumane handling of refugee applications by the federal government,” Ms Rhiannon said. 

Accordingly to the current Australian government policy, those who arrive by boat with no valid document are taken into immigration detention on Christmas Island or to centres on the mainland while their reasons for being in the country are investigated and verified.
Just this year, authorities have stopped boats carrying about 4,000 asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is in talks over opening a regional processing centre for refugees in neighboring East Timor.

For more information, please see:

Fiji Times – Death Before Deportation – 21 September 2010

The Australian – Detainee Killed in Villawood Fall Faced Deportation to Fiji, Warned ‘Send My Dead Body’ – 20 September 2010

What’s On Xiamen – Fijian Detainee Josefa Rauluni, 36, Leaps to Death from Roof of Australian Centre – 21 September 2010

Egyptian Security Forces Accused of Murdering African Refugees

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – On September 9, 2 Sudanese refugees were shot and killed by Egyptian soldiers as they tried to cross the Egyptian border into southern Israel.  A third refugee was wounded in the shooting and was subsequently arrested by the Egyptian police.

In the past three years, more than 4,000 refugees have crossed through the Sinai Desert illegally, seeking asylum in Israel.  Many of the refugees are escaping from the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan.  During the summer of 2007, Egyptian authorities implemented a live-fire policy along the Sinai border between Egypt and Israel.  Since then, at least 20 African refugees have been shot dead by Egyptian security forces while trying to reach Israel.

According to Amnesty International, 23 of the refugees have been shot to death by Egyptian security forces since January, and dozens of others have been wounded.  Other refugees captured by the Egyptian security forces have either been imprisoned or forcibly sent back to their country of origin where they will likely face severe human rights abuses; a violation of the guidelines of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Survivors have reported that the Egyptian security forces have gunned down some of the refugees without a warning, including in situations where the refugees have raised their hands in surrender, although Egypt denies the allegation.  Sudanese refugees who are in Israel have reported they were caught and tortured in Egyptian prisons.

According to the Amnesty International Report, Egypt: Deadly Journeys through the Desert, the use of deadly force on the part of the Egyptian security forces against the African refugees violates international law as the refugees are unarmed and therefore do not pose a threat to Egypt.

While refugee advocates claim that Egypt adopted its live-fire policy as a result of US and Israeli pressure on Egypt to stop the flow of African refugees into Israel, both the US and Israeli governments deny this assertion.  However the Sudanese government has urged the Egyptians to take a tougher position on any Sudanese refugee caught in Egypt while trying to escape to Israel.  In a statement given in July 2007, Sudanese Refugee Commissioner, Mohammed Ahmed al-Aghbash, stated that any Sudanese citizen entering Israel was attempting to pursue a “Zionist agenda” and urged the Egyptian government to “firmly penalize them.’

Despite the Egyptian government’s adoption of a live-fire policy along the 155 mile border with Israel, thousands of African refugees continue to cross through the Sinai Desert seeking asylum in Israel.

For more information, please see:

The San Francisco Chronicle – Egypt Accused in Killings of African Refugees – 12 September 2008

United Press International – Egypt Said Increasing Migrant Slaying – 12 September 2008

The Media Line – Sudanese Killed At Egypt-Israel Border– 10 September 2008

Israel Today – Egyptians Gun Down Two More African Refugees – 9 September 2008

Amnesty International USA – Egypt: Deadly Journeys through the Desert – 20 August 2008