Immigration minister Chris Bowen was warned by DFAT of concerns about Malaysia’s record on human rights before the refugee swap deal was announced.
In documents filed by lawyers acting for Bowen in the High Court action to prevent asylum-seekers being sent to Malaysia, the briefing highlights the death penalty, caning and detention without trial in the country.
The DFAT paper on Malaysia, which formed part of the Immigration Department submission to the minister on the legality of the deal, also says human rights organisations had made “credible allegations” regarding inadequate standards in detention centres. “Some concerns have been expressed about Malaysia’s record on human rights on specific issues, both internationally and within Malaysia,” the document, dated May 3, says.
“One of the issues is the use of the Internal Security Act to allow for detention without trial. Malaysia also retains the death penalty and caning as forms of judicial punishment.”
The briefing, which collated information from the UN, Amnesty International and the US State Department, says illegal immigrants can be imprisoned. Amnesty said 29,759 foreigners were caned between 2005 and last year.
“Not being a party to the Refugee Convention, Malaysia does not grant refugee status or asylum… however Malaysian authorities generally cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” the briefing says. “And according to the UNHCR, ‘there were credible indications that forcible deportations of asylum-seekers and refugees had ceased in mid-2009′.”
The Immigration Department summarised the DFAT paper as supporting “the proposition that Malaysia is a country you may be satisfied that meets the relevant criteria” for a swap deal.
It told Bowen Malaysia had made a “clear commitment” all asylum-seekers sent from Australia would be provided with protection and “they will be treated with dignity and respect” in accordance to human rights standards. The briefings were among dozens of documents tendered to the court on behalf of Bowen in the legal action taken by the first group of asylum-seekers chosen to be removed to Malaysia under the new deal.
Judge Kenneth Hayne has extended the restraining order until the case can be heard by the full bench on August 22.