Australia's Malaysian refugee expulsion delayed

Australia is planning to expel asylum seekers to Malaysia, but it's been delayed as the Australian High Court rules on its legality.
Protesters hold placards in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late July after Australia and Malaysia sealed a pact to swap refugees. (Associated Press)

Australia's plan to expel asylum seekers to Malaysia as part of a new refugee swap deal was delayed Monday for at least two weeks until the Australian High Court can rule on its legality.

Refugee advocates obtained an injunction in the court late Sunday against the government flying the first 16 asylum seekers to Kuala Lumpur on Monday morning.

Justice Kenneth Hayne said Monday the injunction will remain in force until the full bench of seven judges hears the case in the week beginning Aug. 22.

The delay is a blow to the government, which had said it would post video on social networking sites Facebook and YouTube showing the asylum seekers boarding the first chartered flight to Kuala Lumpur as a way of deterring others from coming by boat to Australia.

Lawyer David Manne, who leads the Melbourne-based Refugee and Immigration Legal Center, said he was challenging the government's claim that Malaysia would provide adequate protection.

Critics have said Malaysia has a poor record of respecting refugees' human rights, and note that it has never signed the Refugee Convention or Convention Against Torture.

Manne said some of the asylum seekers "have expressed very serious concerns that they would be persecuted in Malaysia, including on the basis of their religious beliefs."

The 16 in the test case are among 55 asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan who arrived by boat last week at an immigration detention camp on the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Manne said they should have a right to seek refugee status and protection in Australia instead of being expelled to Malaysia.

Amnesty International welcomes injunction

Amnesty International welcomed the injunction, saying it was "horrified that the Australian government is continuing to try to make an example out of vulnerable people, including unaccompanied children," according to a statement.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was considering asking that the case be moved up, saying "it would be better that the case were heard as urgently as possible.

"Any uncertainty around this issue, of course, has the danger of playing into people-smugglers' hands," he said.

The 55 Afghan and Pakistani asylum seekers would be the first sent to Malaysia under a new bilateral agreement that would see Australia eventually sending 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia over four years in exchange for Australia resettling 4,000 registered refugees from among 93,000 now in the Southeast Asian nation.