Sunday, May 29, 2011

Swapping Refugees

Australians are smarter than Malaysians! They have crafted a brilliant plan to use us without us even knowing it. Well, ‘us’ meaning our so-called Malaysian leaders. On May 07, 2011, the Australian government announced plans to deport 800 boat arrivals back to Malaysia as part of a deal with the Malaysian government and the former will accept 4000 refugees from the latter over four years in return. The Aussie government claims this will force people to “join the queue” and will “fight people smuggling”. This represents an ingenious plan of “outsourcing” Australia’s refugee problem to Malaysia.

Australia has been wrestling with this refugee problem for many years now and without much success. Presently, they intercept boat people in the Indian Ocean, who are then detained on their remote Christmas Island for processing and more importantly, preventing asylum seekers from gaining greater legal rights by landing on the Australian mainland.

But this “Malaysia-Australia refugee swap” can turn the refugee problem over its head because as the Australian Immigration and Citizenship Minister Clive Bowen argued it will have “the same (or better) practical effect as ‘turning back the boats’” as most refugees heading for Australia first fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before starting their boat journey to Australia via Indonesia.

“The logic of the Malaysian arrangement is simple. Why would you pay a substantial amount of money and risk your life only to be returned to where you began your boat journey?” Bowen said in an op-ed piece in The Australian. It is evident that this latest endeavor dubbed the “Malaysian solution” will benefit Australia immensely.

But the idea there is an orderly queue to claim refugee status is a myth. Malaysia has over 90,000 registered asylum seekers, and less than 10 per cent were resettled in 2009. Some have been waiting for 20 years, and all are forced to live in impossibly difficult conditions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already raised humanitarian concerns about Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s (above photo) deal with Malaysia, which has been accused of badly treating asylum seekers.

Surely, Gillard knows that Malaysia is not party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is regularly criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Malaysia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which is intended to guarantee refugees fundamental rights. Isn’t this very disconcerting to know? Are there humanitarian safeguards in place when the refugees are expelled to Malaysia? Doesn’t this show Gillard to be a self-serving politician who is desperate to hold up her plunging popularity?

In Malaysia, refugees are out of the radar of the average Malaysian as they are hidden from view. But horror stories of their conditions and allegations of illegal trafficking of them have regularly filtered out in the alternative media. The problem is that there is no protection for refugees here and they become easy targets of systematic abuse and even subjected to arbitrary arrest, and deportation back to the persecution that they fled. Even UNHCR-recognized refugees are subject to constant harassment by the authorities, and live in poverty and fear. Refugees in Malaysia are treated like illegal immigrants and are prone to extortion, jailing and whipping. And for the naïve, whipping (Malaysians prefer to call it ‘caning’) is a punishment that involves the prisoner being tied up and beaten so that they bleed.

Why is Malaysia suddenly a dumping ground for refugees? How many pieces of silver did Malaysia get to “solve” Australia’s refugee problem? By forging this swap deal, Australia will become a party to human rights violations that refugees in Malaysia are regularly being subjected to. Australia is no better than Malaysia!

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