Australia Eases Policy on Children in Refugee Swap Plan

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 11:30 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Australia is backing away from a plan to send unaccompanied children to Malaysia as part of a refugee swap arrangement with Malaysia.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in a radio interview Monday the government will now assess children on an individual basis under the plan, which had drawn harsh criticism.

The United Nations refugee agency said Friday it could not support the proposed swap, which would send 800 undocumented asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing, as long as unaccompanied children were included. The agency Monday welcomed Mr. Bowen's statement, but said it will seek human rights guarantees before endorsing the final agreement.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also criticized the plan, complaining that Malaysia has not ratified international treaties on torture and the treatment of refugees.

Officials announced the deal with Malaysia last month, but it has yet to be signed. In return for taking 800 refugees from Australia, Malaysia would send Australia 4,000 refugees whose status has already been certified.

Australian immigration officials have long been looking for ways to deter asylum seekers from entering the country illegally, especially those who come by sea in often rickety boats. It detains those who enter illegally until their asylum claims are processed.

Officials have been especially concerned about growing numbers of parents who are putting their children on boats and sending them on a dangerous sea journey from Indonesia and other Pacific islands.

Each year, Australia accepts more than 10,000 refugees who have gone through international asylum programs.