Australian High Court rules against refugee swap deal with M’sia

(AP/Bernama) – Australia’s highest court has ruled that Australia cannot send asylum seekers to Malaysia as part of a new refugee swap deal.

The High Court reached a 5-2 majority decision on Wednesday to make permanent an injunction that has stood since Aug 8 and prevented Australia transferring 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in return for Malaysia sending 4,000 registered refugees for resettlement.

The decision is a blow to Prime Minister Julia Gillard‘s government, which struck the deal with Malaysia to deter thousands of asylum seekers from Middle Eastern and Asian countries from attempting to reach Australia by boat.

The court said in a statement that Malaysia has not signed the U.N. Refugee Convention and the deal with Australia did not legally bind Malaysia to recognise the status of refugees under its domestic law.

It also said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had no legal power to remove from Australia asylum seekers whose refugee claims have not yet been determined.

The case was brought to the court by 41 asylum-seekers who had appealed against their forced transfer to Kuala Lumpur from Christmas Island, “The Australian” newspaper said.

They were to be the first group of asylum-seekers to be moved to Malaysia after the government’s formal signing in July of the deal to send 800 boat people to Malaysia, in return for 4,000 confirmed refugees.

If the Australian government now abandons the refugee swap deal, it will still be bound under the deal to accept the 4,000 refugees from Malaysia, while being unable to send 800 asylum-seekers there for processing.