Over 90,000 refugees in MalaysiaThursday, November 11th, 2010 15:20:00
KUALA LUMPUR: There were 90,301 refugees in Malaysia registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) up to September this year.
Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk A. Kohilan Pillay said Malaysia cooperated with the UNCHR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in repatriating refugees to their countries of origin or relocating them to a third country willing to accept them.
"Until now, 49,082 refugees have been sent to third countries, 68 per cent of them through the UNHCR and 32 per cent through IOM," he said in his reply to a question from Hamim Samuri (BN-Ledang) in the Dewan Rakyat, here, today.
Kohilan said issues related to refugees had not been raised by the source countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand during their bilateral talks with Malaysia.
"However, their embassies here would always assist in the documentation process for refugees to be relocated to third countries," he said.
To a supplementary question from M. Kulasegaran (DAP-Ipoh Barat) on claims that the Malaysian government allowed the exploitatiion of refugees, Kohilan said the UNHCR and IOM were responsible for looking after the registered refugees.
However, he said, Malaysia also assisted in terms of medical aid and educational programmes for them.
He said as there were no special laws for refugees in this country, issues involving them came under the Immigration Act 1959/63 and that refugees were considered as illegal immigrants.- Malay Mail, 11/11/2010, Over 90,000 refugees in Malaysia
Announcements of character tests for refugees and the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) are distractions. So too is the recent decision by the Gillard Government of its Malaysian ‘solution’.
The deal between Australia and Malaysia proposes that Australia take 4,000 asylum seekers who have been declared refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but have not been settled in a host country. Most of the 4,000 refugees Australia is likely to take are Burmese. The rate will be 1,000 a year over four years.
The annual quota for Australia’s refugee intake will increase from 13,750 to 14,750 a year. The increase in the annual quota will reportedly cost the Federal Government $216 million and a further $76 million to fly refugees from Malaysia to Australia.
Costs of the Australian Government’s international advertising campaign with the slogan 'Don’t do it', warning people smugglers and refugees in Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan to resist coming to Australia or risk ending up in Malaysia, have been undisclosed.
Recent protests at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre have again focused the public’s attention on mandatory detention. In response to the protests the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship made it clear that “asylum seekers found to be refugees will lose the right to a permanent visa if convicted of an offence”. The Minister’s threat to deny or regulate protection of an asylum seeker because of their character distracts society from examining why we are intolerant of refugee protests.
Asylum seekers have the right to seek our protection. There is no requirement that they must accept long periods of detention with humility. The poor conditions of Australia’s detention centres have been well documented and much criticised. Neither character tests nor TPVs will halt the movement of those fleeing persecution nor ensure they accept the criminalisation of their asylum claim.
Reports in the Australian media about the reintroduction of character tests and TPVs seeks to divert attention away from the failures of the Liberal and Labor party’s refugee policies. As Green’s Senator Sarah Hanson-Young correctly acknowledges, TPV’s “won’t stop people rioting in detention centres” and they “won’t stop people making the treacherous voyage”.
Yet, Minister Chris Bowen has recently said: “I think that it’s perfectly appropriate to say to somebody who has misbehaved in a detention centre, "you’re not getting a permanent visa, we’ll look at sending you home, if we can’t send you home for whatever reason at the moment, we might give you a temporary visa but it’s got all these restrictions on it".
Even for a Labor government that maintains a populist hardline on asylum seekers, this is a remarkable statement given Bowen’s previous comments. The 2007 Labor Government, according to Bowen, was elected on a platform that included a more humane treatment of those seeking protection. This included abolishing TPVs, described by the Minister as “the symbol of the former government’s continued punishment of those found to be owed our protection”.
TPVs contravene the 1951 Refugee Convention’s protection mandate. As one migration lawyer recently put it: “the only [TM1] grounds on which refugee protection provisions could be revoked involved crimes against humanity” and “they’re not supposed to be denied protection for criminal matters or detention centre misbehaviour”.
Character tests and TPVs are not the answer to detention protests nor the growing numbers being detained. According to the Refugee Council of Australia there has been a 1,400 per cent increase in long-term detention in just one year. Detainees grew by 196 per cent. Those detained more than six months grew seven times faster (from 258 in March 2010 to 3,901 in March this year).
Regardless of the length of detention – be it two months or two years – criminalising protesting and denying humanitarian protection because of protesting – fails to recognise the illegality and inhumanity of mandatory detention.
Delays in processing lead to overcrowding and frustration. It is this that leads to self-harm and protests. The introduction of a character test to those that engage in “unacceptable behaviour”, including protesting, is designed to send a message to voters that Labor is tough on refugees. Apart from pandering to xenophobic nationalism, it distracts debate from the administrative problems of mandatory detention.
ASIO in 2010, for example, failed to complete security checks on 900 asylum seekers who had found to be genuine refugees, leaving them to languish in detention. It also detracts public attention and scrutiny away from those with mental illnesses, those that self-harm, and the tragedy of deaths in mandatory detention.
The character test built into Australia’s 1958 Migration Act (Section 5C) is already strong. Every refugee must pass the test before they get a visa. New character tests will mean refugees have to jump more hurdles that anyone else. Even if they are granted a TPV, restrictive conditions on family reunion will continue to punish refugees.
The Gillard Government’s plan to deny permanent visas to those caught breaking the law “even if they’re a legitimate refugee” seems legally absurd and morally repugnant.
It also contravenes international law which states asylum seekers “should not be refused refugee status unless they have ‘committed a serious non-political crime’, been involved in ‘war crimes, or crimes against humanity’, or are a serious security risk.”
The Liberal Coalition policy on refugees has been consistent if impractical. According to Tony Abbott the “two things that the Government should be doing today is they should be picking up the phone to the president of Nauru to say, ‘Let’s re-open the centre’ and making TPVs the rule for all people who come illegally by boat.”
Sadly the current problems – increasing numbers of asylum seekers in detention centres, longer lengths of incarceration, and protests – is not seen as a humanitarian issue for the Gillard Government. It is seen as a “perception” issue. Protests have highlighted the Labor Government doesn’t have an effective policy.
This leaves room for conservative commentators to recall deplorable policies such at the expensive and ineffective Pacific Solution. The Government has also realised that the East Timor ‘solution’ will not be accepted (as prime minister Xanana Gusmao had privately acknowledged and which president Jose Ramos-Horta has now publically stated).
It seems Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Malaysia are the next stop for Gillard and Bowen.
The best that Labor does is to distract us with character tests, TPVs, and the Malaysian ‘solution’ serve to remind us of Phillip Ruddock.
Jo Coghlan is a lecturer in politics at the School of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of New South Wales. - Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC News ), 10/5/2011, Labor lured to the Ruddock Solution for refugees