UNHCR goes easy on Australia-Malaysia refugee swap deal

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 05 Jun 2011

MELBOURNE: The United Nations has backed away from its strong condemnation of the proposed asylum seeker swap deal with Malaysia, saying the Australian government has made significant changes, the Australian Associated Press reports.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it remained actively engaged in ongoing discussions with Australia and Malaysia on the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU).

"UNHCR's recent discussions on this issue relate to a specific and now superseded draft of the proposed MoU, details of which were released on Australian television last Thursday night," the organisation said in a statement.

"Negotiations and discussions on the MoU have progressed significantly since then."

The UNHCR had been critical of the proposed deal by which Australia will send 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia for processing and accept 4,000 processed asylum seekers in return.

It had said the deal could breach Australia's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention as the protections afforded those sent to Malaysia might not meet required human rights standards.

In its statement released Sunday, it said it continued to expect that appropriate refugee and human rights protections would be incorporated to any finalised agreement.

"In particular, UNHCR insists that special consideration and appropriate protection arrangements will be put in place for vulnerable groups including unaccompanied minors," it said.

The UNHCR said it had noted and welcomed the statement from Australia's Immigration Minister Chris Bowen who said that decisions on unaccompanied minors would be made on a case-by-case basis.

"These are extremely important protection principles for UNHCR, which we continue to discuss with both governments," it said. - Bernama

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