Thursday, July 28, 2011
Malaysia refugees threaten Aus trips
REFUGEES in Malaysia are threatening to pay people smugglers to take them to Australia, saying they'll be treated better when they're sent back under the asylum seeker swap deal.
Human-rights organisations have criticised the deal, saying it could actually act as a pull factor for boat people and creates a two-tier refugee system.
Under the $292 million agreement, signed in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the next 800 asylum seekers intercepted in Australia will be transferred to Malaysia within 72 hours, after which they will be held in transit facilities for up to 45 days.
Once processed, they will be moved into the community and given work rights, as well as access to education and health care.
But the more than 90,000 refugees already in Malaysia do not have the same benefits, while many must work illegally to provide for themselves and their families.
Amnesty International says the agreement with Malaysia will not deter asylum seekers from taking boats to Australia and could actually act as a pull factor.
"The Australian government is under a false impression if they view this agreement as a deterrent to refugees and asylum seekers from taking the journey to Australia," a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Malaysia said on Thursday.
"Both governments need to craft a better regional solution, and this includes a long-term solution identifying why people seek refuge."
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Thursday downplayed the possibility of people taking boats to Australia in order to qualify for more rights and better conditions in Malaysia.
"I think it's a big call. I think people come to Australia because they want to live in Australia," Mr Bowen said.
"Suggesting that they'll get on a boat for some other reason I think is a brave call."
However, the criticisms from Amnesty International have been reinforced by refugees in Kuala Lumpur, many of whom have been waiting for years to be resettled in another country, with some now threatening to take a boat to Australia.
Ishma, a Tamil asylum seeker who has been in Malaysia for five years, said she was angry that people who pay people smugglers would be given more rights than those who don't.
"If they're going to do that for the 800, let them do it for us, let them give them money for us. We don't do the wrong thing," she said.
"If things happen like that we also will go illegally and go there and come back."
The comments came despite the agreement being sold as a way to break the people smugglers' business model.
The government has said the 800 asylum seekers sent to Malaysia will not get any preferential treatment in terms of resettlement.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the government had "failed to match their policy detail with their rhetoric on border protection".
"No doubt more holes will emerge, as the deal was conceived in desperation and panic," Mr Morrison said.