WA Premier slams children being sent to Malaysia

By ABC News

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett says sending unaccompanied asylum seeker children to Malaysia is indefensible.

Yesterday, a group of 55 asylum seekers reached Christmas Island where they were told they would be the first to be transferred to Malaysia under the Federal Government’s swap deal.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says 19 members of the group are children and 14 of them are unaccompanied.

Mr Barnett says he does not agree with the Federal Government’s decision to send unaccompanied children to Malaysia.

“It’s a horrendous issue, that no matter how desperate people might be, that they would put children by themselves at risk on an asylum seeker boat crossing a wild and dangerous sea to get to Australia,” he said.

“My personal view, and [it] won’t probably win many friends in the Liberal Party, I think it is absolutely indefensible for Australia, a prosperous country, to send children by themselves to another country.

“I think we are failing in humanity in doing that.

“I don’t feel proud to be an Australian if we are going to send small children to another country unaccompanied.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has warned there can be no blanket exemptions for children under the Malaysian swap deal and says their transfer will be filmed and posted on YouTube as a deterrent.

UNICEF spokesman Norman Gillespie said earlier today that it was extremely concerning up to 14 unaccompanied children could soon be deported.

“We would be extremely concerned if any unaccompanied minor would indeed be deported in such a way,” he said.

“We note that it will be a case-by-case basis and we absolutely depend upon the minister to make the right decision in these instances.”

‘Preyed on’

Human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo, who is part of the Malaysian Bar’s Human Rights Committee, says sending asylum seekers to Malaysia may breach Australia’s legal responsibilities.

“The Immigration Minister is the legal guardian of refugees who are minors and he has to decide what’s in the best interests of the child and under the provisions of the convention of the rights of the child,” he said.

“A decision that’s made, which is questionable where it may or may not be in the best interests of the child, can be challenged,” he said.

Mr Khoo also says unaccompanied children may be preyed on by criminal gangs.

“My concern for them will be for their future,” he said.

“They are idling their time away and they would make very good targets for people hoping to entice them into some kind of petty crime rackets, and it’s not difficult for them to be tempted by some of the things they see around them.”