Malaysia deal is people-trafficking: Rally organisers

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The proposed refugee swap with Malaysia should be abandoned immediately, said the organisers of a protest to mark World Refugee Day on 19 June outside Sydney Town Hall.

Sydney World Refugee Day march - Photograph: Peter Boyle

Distinguished journalist and former ABC broadcaster John Highfield, one of the rally’s MCs, has described the proposed deal as “people trafficking, pure and simple”.

“I never thought I’d see a Labour Government in my country turn its back on human rights and lose the direction of a moral compass,” Highfield said. “Australia’s leading politicians have abandoned principle to the craven demands of the tabloid news cycle.”

“Malaysian civil society has received numerous assurances from the government concerning refugees,” said Renuka Balasubramaniam, Director of the Malaysian NGO Lawyers for Liberty. “However, when an affected refugee requires redress, no Malaysian court or government agency is willing to look beyond the letter of existing laws in order to deliver justice.”

Rally organisers say that any assurances the Australian government might give of better treatment in Malaysia for Australian-origin refugees are meaningless.

“Do people really believe that Australian-origin refugees in Malaysia will be able to flash an official card to avoid harsh treatment like arrest and caning?” asked Ian Rintoul, from the WRD organising committee. “Australia and Malaysia can say whatever they like about refugees being properly treated. But Malaysia’s human rights record speaks for itself. There is no guarantee whatsoever that any conditions in the deal will actually be enforced.”

“Australia should not be in the business of preventing refugees from coming here,” Rintoul continued. “We should welcome refugees, not try to repel them. If the government was really serious about preventing people from undertaking dangerous sea-crossings, it would decriminalise people smuggling so that people could come here openly to have their asylum claims assessed.”

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The rally, whose theme is ‘It’s time to end mandatory detention’, was called to mark World Refugee Day, and endorsed by a wide range of organisations and individuals (see list below).

Endorsing organisations and individuals

  • AID/WATCH
  • Australian Council for International Development
  • Australian Tamil Congress
  • Balmain for Refugees
  • Bathurst Refugee Support Group
  • Blacktown Greens
  • Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group
  • Braidwood Greens
  • Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies University of Sydney
  • ChilOut
  • Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (NSW)
  • Cross Border Collective
  • David Shoebridge MP Greens (MLC)
  • Dr Claudia Tazreiter UNSW
  • Edmund Rice Centre
  • Eva Cox (Research Fellow Jumbunna UTS)
  • Fairfield Liverpool Greens
  • Friends of the Earth Sydney
  • GetUp!
  • Greens NSW
  • Inner Sydney Greens
  • Jamie Parker MP Greens (Member for Balmain)
  • Justice and Arts Network
  • Justice John S. Purdy
  • Labor 4 Refugees (NSW)
  • Lake Macquarie Greens
  • Marie Coleman Women’s Advocate
  • Maritime Union of Australia Sydney Branch
  • Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association of NSW
  • Muslim Youth of Sydney
  • National Tertiary Education Union NSW
  • Newcastle Greens
  • Northern Beaches Greens
  • NSW Council for Civil Liberties
  • Parramatta Greens
  • Petersham Newtown Greens,
  • Port Jackson Greens
  • Refugee Action Coalition NSW
  • Revolutionary Socialist Party
  • Riverina Greens
  • Shoalhaven Greens
  • Socialist Alliance
  • South Sydney Greens
  • St George Greens,
  • Student Environment Activist Network – NSW & ACT (SEAN)
  • Sutherland Greens
  • Sydney Peace Foundation University of Sydney
  • Tweed Greens
  • Union Aid Abroad/APHEDA
  • University of New South Wales Anti-Racism Club
  • University of New South Wales Student Representative Council
  • University of Sydney Anti-Racism Collective
  • University of Technology Sydney Anti-Racism Collective
  • Waverley Greens,
  • Woollahra Greens
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