SYDNEY, August 23, 2011 (AFP) â€“ Australiaâ€™s plan to send boatpeople to Malaysia would breach the basic rights of asylum seekers, according to arguments at the High Court, which on Tuesday is set to extend or lift a freeze on transfers.
Australia wants to ship up to 800 boatpeople to Malaysia as part of its bid to crack down on people smuggling, but the transfer of the first group has been held up by a legal challenge.
Lawyers for the mostly Afghan group of asylum seekers, who were due to be taken to Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago, have questioned whether Canberra has the power to send potential refugees to the Asian nation.
In her representations to the High Court on Monday, Debbie Mortimer said that â€œfundamental rights are at stake and there are three; liberty, obviously, freedom of movement and bodily integrity, and the freedom from assaultâ€.
â€œThe proposed conduct of the Commonwealth interferes with all three of those rights,â€ Mortimer, the senior counsel, said on the opening day of the two-day full bench hearing in Canberra.
Mortimer said the first plaintiff in the case, Sayed-Navab Shah, who arrived in Australian waters via Malaysia, could be subject to persecution if returned because he is a Shia Muslim.
In a document to the court, Shah has written that his group believes they will be â€œarrested due to our religious beliefsâ€ if sent to Malaysia, a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation where the minority Shiite community has been accused of threatening national security.
Australia wants to send asylum seekers to Malaysia and Papua New Guinea as part of what it hopes will be a regional solution to stop the trafficking of people to its shores.
But rights groups have attacked the plan as inhumane, arguing that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees and Australia is failing in its obligations to asylum seekers.
As part of the Malaysia deal, Canberra plans to take 4,000 of Kuala Lumpurâ€™s registered refugees for resettlement over four years. The full details of the arrangement with impoverished Papua New Guinea have not been released.
Some 7,000 boatpeople arrived in Australia in 2010 and more than 2,000 have been picked up so far this year.