KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 6 — A group of Australian asylum seekers bound for Malaysia have gone on a hunger strike to protest their deportation under the recently sealed refugee swap deal.
The Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported today that the group, thought to number some 54 people including some 18 who say they are minors, is the first to be processed under the Gillard administration’s deal with Malaysia inked on July 25.
The news agency reported Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul as saying Australian human rights advocates had received a distress call yesterday from one of the asylum seekers who have been detained on Christmas Island since July 31.
“The short call said only, ‘We are in a bad way; we need help. We are starting a hunger strike’,” Rintoul was reported as saying and urged the Australian government to allow lawyers to visit the refugees.
“The asylum seekers have committed no crime but are effectively being held incommunicado… The abuse of their human rights has started even before they have been sent to Malaysia,” he added.
Under the agreement, Australia will take in 4,000 asylum-seekers already in Malaysia whose claims have been processed, in return for Malaysia taking 800 unprocessed asylum-seekers from Australia.
While Australia says the scheme is needed to break the chain of human smuggling syndicates, the controversial deal between Canberra and Putrajaya has been heavily panned by human rights proponents worldwide.
Australian immigration minister Chris Bowen maintains the deal is clear and reminded asylum seekers heading Down South who put their children on boats should work on the basis that they would be taken to Malaysia.
“No blanket exemptions. I’ll not have the situation where we provide a reward for people who put their children on a boat and undertake that dangerous journey,” the AAP quoted him as saying.
“But I know, sure as night follows day, that if you’ve blanket exemptions people smugglers would exploit that loophole and put children on boats, and we’d be dealing with the dangerous situation of boatloads of children,” Bowen added.