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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Why Malaysia does Aussies’ dirty work for refugees? A Concern over pact on asylum!

Diplomatically SpeakingBy Dennis Ignatius
The problem of asylum seekers is a serious one and Malaysia is right to cooperate with other nations to curb human trafficking. However, any cooperation should not be to our disadvantage.

Malaysia and Australia an-nounced last week that both countries had reached an agreement in principle that would allow asylum seekers arriving Australia by boat to be transferred to Malaysia for “processing.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that the deal would send a clear message to asylum seekers that they “can be sent directly to Malaysia where they will be at the back of the queue.”

Malaysia, for its part, believes that the agreement would send a strong signal that our country should not be used as a transit point and that human trafficking is something that we do not condone.

The agreement is highly controversial in Australia which has been struggling to deal with an influx of boat people or “irregular maritime arrivals” (IMAs), as they are rather euphemistically labelled. In the past 16 months, some 150 boats carrying 7,426 IMAs mostly from Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan have reached Australia. Few would qualify as genuine refugees.

Australian law, with its emphasis on human rights, makes it extremely difficult and costly for illegals to be summarily deported once they become subject to the Australian judicial system.

Other western countries also face the same conundrum. Over the last two years, for example, several hundred boat people from Sri Lanka have managed to reach the west coast of Canada. Within months, all but a handful of them were released pending a review of their cases. No one is under any illusion that any of them will eventually be deported.

The legal system in Canada is such that even murder suspects cannot be deported if there is a possibility that they might be subject to torture or other cruel and inhuman treatment, including the death penalty.

One of the beneficiaries of this benevolence is a Malaysian murder suspect wanted by our police. Malaysia’s request for his extradition has been denied on the grounds that he might face the death penalty. He is presently pursuing the Cana-dian dream as a free man.

Australia is therefore seeking to interdict illegals before they arrive in Australian waters and detain them in offshore detention centres well beyond the reach of Australian law. The objective is to literally let them rot in such centres as a warning to other would-be asylum seekers. Some might argue that this is the moral equivalent of extraordinary rendition.

Australia has been desperately seeking to persuade a number of different countries, including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, to serve as regional detention centres for Australia bound asylum seekers. None, however, have agreed until now. The deal with Malaysia is, therefore, a breakthrough for Gillard’s policy of outsourcing Australia’s detention centres.

While off-shore detention centres might make perfect sense for Australia, what is less clear is how it would benefit Malaysia.

Malaysia already plays reluctant host to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees. It is a well-documented fact that they endure great hardship and abuse.

The fundamental problem is that Malaysia has steadfastly refused to accede to the UN Refugee Conven-tion. All refugees are treated as illegal immigrants and are subject to arrest, detention, punishment, and deportation. According to Amnesty International, more than 6,000 refugees are caned every year, while others have been trafficked to Thai gangs by corrupt local officials.

Given this situation, there should be genuine concerns as to the fate of those who are now going to be transferred from Australia. In an attempt to assuage public concern in Australia, our High Commissioner in Canberra has stated that the transferees would not be detained in Malaysia but would be allowed to “mingle” with the population at large.

What this “mingle” means is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain: they will join the vast sea of suffering humanity that comprises Malaysia’s illegal population which is now estimated to number in excess of a million people.

There might even be questions about the legality of this whole exercise under Malaysian law. Will their refugee status be recognized by the Government? Will they be allowed to seek employment to support themselves? Will they be guaranteed safety from RELA harassment? How long will they be allowed to stay in Malaysia? What would happen to them if they are not accepted for resettlement in third countries?

Furthermore, there is a good possibility that rather than discouraging the use of Malaysia as a transit point it might well make us the principal holding area for would-be Australian asylum seekers. Do we want such a dubious distinction?

Clearly, unless Malaysia is prepared to radically alter its approach to illegal immigrants and refugees, we are headed for a right royal mess.

The problem of asylum seekers is indeed a serious one. Malaysia is right to cooperate with other countries to stymie the immoral work of people smugglers and human traffickers. As well, we certainly ought to take our obligations towards genuine refugees far more seriously than we now do.

Becoming a dumping ground for unwanted illegals or doing Australia’s dirty work, however, neither serves our interests nor does justice to asylum seekers.

The Government should seriously review this flawed initiative.

Rocking the refugee boat

Comment By Baradan Kuppusamy

The proposed Malaysia-Australia pact on asylum seekers is aimed at deterring people smuggling but the plan also has its detractors.

THE proposed Malaysia-Aus-tralia pact to tackle people smuggling, under which Malaysia will accept 800 asylum seekers caught entering Australia illegally by sea in return for Australia resettling 4,000 registered refugees living in Malaysia for over four years, is a path-breaking deal.

However, the political opposition in Australia and human rights advocates are slamming the plan as cruel and ineffective.

Australia wants to send 800 boat people to Malaysia for processing as part of a one-off deal, which the government hopes however will be a first step in developing a regional solution.

But human rights advocates said the plan would not stop thousands of asylum seekers from risking their lives on perilous boat journeys to Australia each year.

Others in Australia defended the proposal, saying it would act as a deterrent to people-smuggling in Asia.
Australia has long attracted people from poor and often war-ravaged countries hoping to start a new life, with more than 6,200 asylum seekers arriving in the country by boat last year.

Most are from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq and they use either the coast of Malaysia or Indonesia as a starting point for a dangerous sea journey to Australia.

“This landmark agreement will help take away the product people smugglers are trying to sell – a ticket to Australia,” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement.

“The key message this will deliver to people smugglers and those seeking to make the dangerous sea voyage to Australia is – do not get on that boat,” she said.

“Under this arrangement, if you arrive in Australian waters and are taken to Malaysia, you will go to the back of the queue,” she said.

Starting from the back of the queue in Malaysia is not what the refugees or asylum seekers want, especially the long delay that this involves.

In this way, Australia aims to curb the people smuggling syndicates that launch the boats crammed with people towards its coast.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the agreement was beneficial to both countries and strongly signalled that Malaysia should not be used as a transit point.

Australia would fully fund the arrangement, a joint statement issued by both countries said, adding that the one-off pilot project aimed to “undermine the business model of transnational criminal syndicates, particularly in people smuggling and human trafficking in this region”.

Both countries will work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to implement the arrangement, which would be finalised soon, it said.

Australia’s opposition has however slammed the deal as good for Malaysia but lousy for Australia with its opposition leader Tony Abbot saying that “this idea that they will take one and we will take five just risks Malaysia becoming the open back door to Australia”.

Since early 2010, Australia has intercepted more than 140 boats carrying asylum seekers while Malaysia has also caught dozens of people embarking on rickety and overcrowded boats to Australia.

The increasing number of boat arrivals has become a divisive issue in Australia, with the opposition demanding stricter laws to deter would-be illegal immigrants.

Speaking on the sidelines of a summit in Jakarta recently, Najib said the asylum seeker deal would be mutually beneficial to both Malaysia and Australia.

“It’s a big issue in Australia (and) it’s also useful for us because we will send a strong signal that Malaysia should not be used as a transit point and that human trafficking is something that we do not condone,” he said.

Human rights groups have however criticised the plan, complaining that Malaysia was not a signatory to the United Nations refugees’ convention, and claiming that refugees in its detention centres lived in squalid and overcrowded conditions.

But Najib has given an assurance that asylum seekers taken to Malaysia from Australia would be treated humanely.

“What is important is that the entire operation will be conducted under the auspices of UNHCR and the IOM as well,” he said.

Besides, Malaysia had given a clear undertaking that people would be treated with dignity and respect.
Nevertheless, Immigration Mini­ster Chris Bowen acknowledged that the new policy would be controversial.

“I expect protests. I expect legal challenges. I expect resistance,” he said. “(But) nobody should doubt our resolve to break the people smugglers’ business model.”

The Malaysian and Australian governments have asked senior officials to finalise a memorandum of understanding in the near future to set out detailed arrangements.

Saturday May 14, 2011

Concern over pact on asylum


KUALA LUMPUR: The Law Council of Australia is concerned with the implications of the recently announced agreement between its government and Malaysia to exchange asylum seekers for refugees.
Its president Alexander Ward said the council “does not agree the trade of asylum seekers for refugees is an appropriate solution to this substantial issue.”

“The council has significant concerns in relation to how this agreement will be managed and how the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees will be protected,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Headlined “Law Council concerned over Australian-Malaysian Asylum Seeker Agree-ment”, the council's statement was posted on its website

It noted that Malaysia was not a party to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a convention to which Australia was a party and therefore obligated by its protocols.

“For Australia to enter into an agreement with a country that is not party to the Convention raises significant concerns regarding the treatment of asylum seekers who are sent to Malaysia,” said Ward.
“Previous concerns have been expressed about the treatment of illegal immigrants in Malaysia.”

While few details have been released about the agreement, the council said it had noted the statement by the Malaysian Bar president, Lim Chee Wee, on May 9 calling for the two governments not to proceed given “the legal situation and conditions that asylum seekers and refugees and their families in Malaysia are degrading, demeaning and dehumanising, and wholly unacceptable to any civilised society”.

The council added that it would closely review the details of the agreement when they are released by the Australian government.