Malaysia solution is no solution

May 13, 2011
A refugee in Villawood detention centre takes part in a rooftop protest.
A refugee in Villawood detention centre takes part in a rooftop protest. Photo: Vlaudin Vega/Facebook

The refugee deal struck between the Australian and Malaysian governments will put vulnerable, desperate refugees in great danger.

Under the agreement, the Gillard Labor government will deport to Malaysia 800 asylum seekers that arrive in Australia by boat. Malaysia has not signed the United Nations Refugee Convention.

The deportations will be automatic. Men, women, children — the government has promised it will make no exceptions. They will be deemed unworthy of protection, regardless of their circumstances.

In return, Australia will take 4000 refugees from Malaysia over four years.

The Australian government’s plan is crafted to add force to the widespread myth that there is an orderly queue for refugees. The asylum seekers that arrive here by boat are supposed to have jumped the queue.

But there is no queue for people fleeing persecution, war and mistreatment.

On May 9, the Malaysian Bar condemned the Australian government’s “irresponsible … [abdication of] its international obligations under the Convention”.

It said: “Through this deal, Australia is consigning 800 people to a life of uncertainty and probable suffering ... Indeed, Malaysian law does not even recognise the concept of asylum seekers or refugees. Instead, it treats all undocumented persons as ‘illegal immigrants’, and subjects them to imprisonment and whipping.”

The Bar said Malaysia “is already home to 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees”, who receive no government support. “They exist in a shadow society in which they have no legal rights, and even less protection and security. They live in constant fear of the authorities — the police [and] immigration personnel.”

Indeed, in a recent letter published in Green Left Weekly, a refugee from Burma, now held in an Australian detention centre, explains that when he was held in Malaysia, corrupt immigration officials actually sold him.

He was forced to work on a fishing boat, enslaved, until he escaped and sought safety in Australia.

GLW will publish more letters from refugees in the coming weeks — giving a voice to some of the brave people who are demonised by the big political parties and the corporate media.

Labor has set a new low in Australia’s refugee policy with this deal. It will open the way for the Coalition to put forward even more draconian measures against refugees.

The federal Greens have opposed the plan and have tabled legislation in parliament that would end the mandatory detention of refugees.

However, Greens leader Bob Brown told the May 9 Australian that skilled migrants should be considered the real “queue jumpers”.

He said: “We know more than 90% of [asylum seekers] turn out to be (refugees) and we should be integrating them into an Australian economy where we are going to see, I think in the budget tomorrow night potentially, queue jumpers being brought in, at the interest of the mining corporations.”

Brown is wrong to treat migrant workers, who are so often exploited by bosses in Australia, as the enemy. By giving weight to the queue jumper myth, Brown also does a disservice to the refugee rights cause.

Refugees cannot be helped by stoking prejudice against another group of people. We need a movement that defends the rights of all migrants, without exception.

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