Gillard: Refugee Ruling May Bar Other Offshore Detention Plans

Posted September 1st, 2011 at 3:15 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says a high court decision blocking a refugee swap with Malaysia has re-written Australian law and raised doubts about the nation's right to transfer asylum seekers to any other country.

Ms. Gillard said Thursday that includes places where Australian asylum-seekers have been detained in the past, namely Manus Island in Papua-New Guinea and the island nation of Nauru.

In Malaysia, human rights advocates welcomed Wednesday's decision, which was based on the fact that Malaysia has not signed international conventions on torture and the treatment of refugees. The chairman of rights group Suaram said the ruling may impel Malaysia to improve its treatment of asylum seekers.

Ms. Gillard's government struck a deal last month to accept 4,000 asylum seekers currently awaiting resettlement in Malaysia, while Malaysia would hold 800 undocumented asylum seekers from Australia while their refugee claims are processed.

However the plan was ruled illegal by Australia's high court Wednesday, leaving the government to decide what to do with more than 330 asylum seekers who have already been selected for transfer to Malaysia.

Ms. Gillard told reporters Thursday the decision contradicted legal precedents and surprised many legal experts. She said the decision may also affect a competing plan by the opposition Liberal Party, which wants to reopen a detention center for asylum seekers in Nauru.

Australia had hoped the swap would discourage would-be refugees from hiring human traffickers to transport them to Australia, often in rickety boats. Its failure is a political setback for Ms. Gillard, whose fragile government was already suffering from dismally low approval ratings.