Outsourcing Asia's Refugees

Oct 07, 2011

Australia's high court to stop its federal government from swapping refugees with Malaysia.

This concern was echoed by Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch: "Picking one group of refugees over another defies the principle of non-discrimination which is at the heart of refugee protection.

"What we're seeing in the region is a fundamental failure of political will to undertake basic human rights obligations," he added.

A case in point, he said, was China's ability in recent years to pressure Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand to forcibly send ethnic Uyghurs back to

China, where rights groups say they face severe punishment - even death sentences - for any suspected involvement in protests.

Only three countries in Asia - Cambodia, Timor-Leste and the Philippines - are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention.

"In the year that the Refugee Convention marks its 60th year, the performance of the vast majority of Asia-Pacific governments towards refugees is absolutely shameful," said Robertson.

On 12 September, the Gillard government announced it would introduce legislation to parliament to amend the country's Migration Act, allowing the

Malaysian refugee swap deal to go forward.

"Malaysia offered the best answer to the issue of asylum seekers and people smuggling then. It offers the best answer now," Gillard told reporters.

This article was first published in IRIN.