A coalition of high-profile Malaysian lawyers and human rights groups have called on Australia to scrap its refugee exchange deal with Malaysia immediately.

The groups, which include the Malaysian Bar Council and human rights organisation Suaram, accused Australia of trying to “outsource” its international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

They were due to meet Australian representatives at the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur today to discuss concerns that the plan would breach international human rights laws.

But they said they were told yesterday that the meeting would be postponed.

The groups hope to add to the pressure on the Australian Government over its plans to exchange 800 asylum seekers who arrive by boat with 4000 registered refugees from Malaysia.

Yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor confirmed a boat with 20 asylum seekers and one crew had been intercepted north-west of the Ashmore Islands on Monday evening.

The group were taken to Christmas Island pending removal to another country.

It is the third boat to arrive since the Malaysian deal was announced.

Eric Paulsen, from Malaysia’s Lawyers for Liberty, said the legal and human rights groups had banded together because they had serious concerns about the plan.

Their main worry was how Australia could guarantee the asylum seekers would be treated with dignity and respect “considering that Malaysia has an appalling track record and is one of the world’s worst places for refugees.”

“All of a sudden, without any changes to Malaysian immigration laws and policies, will asylum seekers suddenly become immune to their day-to-day reality of arbitrary arrest, detention, harassment, extortion, jailing and whipping? We doubt that very much,” he said.

The world refugee agency UNHCR, which handles every aspect of refugee processing in Malaysia, has said it was not consulted on the plan or told what shape it will take.
STEVE PENNELLS, The West Australian May 18, 2011, 2:25 am