Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Asylum seeker swap deal criticised

Australia plans to send unaccompanied child asylum seekers to Malaysia under a refugee swap deal

Australia has come under fire from the UN children's aid agency over its plan to send unaccompanied child asylum seekers to Malaysia under a refugee swap deal being negotiated with the south-east Asian nation.

Australia wants to deter asylum seekers from travelling to the continent by boat by sending hundreds of new arrivals to Malaysia.

The Malaysian government has agreed in principle to take 800 off Australian hands in return for Australia resettling 4,000 registered refugees from among more than 90,000 languishing in Malaysia.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed that the 800 will include vulnerable children who make the perilous boat journey to Australia without parents or adult guardians.

"I don't want unaccompanied minors. I don't want children getting on boats to come to Australia thinking or knowing that there is some sort of exemption in place," he said.

Unicef Australia chief executive Norman Gillespie said his agency had been seeking assurances from the government that children would not be sent to Malaysia and was "dismayed and shocked" by Mr Bowen's announcement.

"This really looks extremely callous and lacking in all forms of compassion," he said.

According to a draft of the proposed agreement, Malaysia is prepared to accept unaccompanied children from Australia.

The Malaysian draft, dated May 23, suggests that procedures be developed "to deal with the special needs of vulnerable cases including unaccompanied minors."

The document makes no mention of human rights, but commits Malaysia to treating asylum seekers from Australia "with dignity and respect".

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