Thousands rally against Malaysia deal, mandatory detention


More than 1,000 people gathered on June 19 to protest mandatory detention and the Gillard government’s highly contentious asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia –– under which Australia would exchange 4,000 processed and confirmed refugees from Malaysia for 800 unconfirmed asylum seekers from Australia.

The crowd gathered at the Royal Exhibition Buildings in Carlton Gardens to hear speakers before marching to join the Emerge Festival at Fitzroy Town Hall. Speakers included Greens MP Adam Bandt, Julian Burnside QC, and several refugees.

Julian Burnside said that Australia would take a massive step backwards in human rights regarding if the “Malaysia solution” is implemented.

The government is working hard to convince the Australian public that it will safeguard the rights of the 800 asylum seekers to be sent to Malaysia. James Hathaway, an expert on refugee law at the University of Michigan, said that Australia can’t guarantee those rights because Malaysia doesn’t recognise any rights for refugees.

The Malaysia swap is even harsher than the Howard government’s Pacific Solution –– the 2001-2007 policy of sending asylum seekers to detention centers on small islands in the Pacific Ocean, such as Nauru.

Drawing from his refugee journey 22 years ago, Eritrean refugee Amara Hamid contrasted the mean spirited response refugees arriving in Australia waters receive, to the far more generous attitude of many poorer countries. “Sudan was and still is one of the poorest countries in Africa but very rich in human values, that is in protecting the dignity of over half a million Eritreans.”

Green Left Weekly spoke with refugee advocate Pamela Curr, who MC’d the rally. “To say celebrate Refugee Day is increasingly becoming a contradiction in terms,” she said.

“Australia which has signed the Refugee Convention stands on the brink of doing a shameful deal with Malaysia, a known human rights abusing country which has not signed the Refugee Convention. If every signatory country followed Australia's lead in deporting asylum seekers to a non-signatory country, this would kill the convention ... with it the only internationally recognised instrument which specifically protects refugees.

“Australia at the bottom of the world, protected by distance from overwhelming influx is becoming increasingly mean and insular to the few people knocking on our doors asking for help. Australia politically stable and rich is pushing back the vulnerable men , women and children who ask for our protection and promise their loyalty and energy in return. We are all shamed by politicians.”