Disturbing news from Australia reveals that Julia Gillard, the Welsh born Australian Prime Minister, intends to send hundreds of asylum seekers, including many unaccompanied children, to a Tenko-style detention centre in Malaysia complete with watch towers, punishment cages and razor wire.
According to Australia’s Green Left magazine, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has denounced the Malaysia deal and called Australia’s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers “a practice that can, and has, led to suicides”.
The Malaysian government has also been accused of using the brutal punishment of the rattan cane on thousands of foreign detainees in recent years. In 2002 the Malaysian government declared ‘illegal’ immigration to be a criminal offence, which means the cane can be used on ‘illegal’ refugees and migrants many of whom are fleeing human rights abuses or war in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Burma.
The so-called “Malaysia solution” in which it is proposed to swap 4,000 ‘genuine’ refugees held in Malaysia for 800 asylum seekers who have sought refuge on the Australian territory of Christmas Island is an attempt to frustrate the use of the Indian Ocean as a stepping stone to the Australian mainland. By forcibly removing vulnerable women and children to Malaysia the Australian government plans to deter would be refugees from making the perilous sea crossing from Indonesia.
Commissioner Pillay has warned that Australia is in breach of international law for its use of arbitrary detention with respect to asylum seekers, including many hundreds of children who continue to be detained for several months. Commissioner said that
Mandatory detention is also a practice that can – and has – led to suicides, self-harming and deep trauma
This new policy would further undermine Australia’s reputation as a guardian of human rights because it could not ensure “no real risk of breach of the principles of the 1951 refugee convention and the convention against torture, which Australia has ratified and Malaysia has not”.
Three teenagers who came to Britain as child refugees discuss their experiences on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, 17/08/2010. You can listen to the interviews here: