Sunday, July 17, 2011

Malaysian solution

  • Reporter: James Thomas
  • Broadcast Date: July 13, 2011

People smugglers are laughing at the Government's proposed Malaysian Solution, saying it's doomed to sink, as they prepare to send thousands more asylum seekers to our shores.

The Government's bold plan to stop the boats involves taking 4000 proven refugees from Malaysia over four years.

But the Malaysian Solution appears to have some very big problems, with strong reason to believe the boats will still come, refugees will continue suffering, and the queue will still be jumped.

The Government's central argument for the Malaysia deal is that it will crush the human traffickers. However, one reputed people smuggler has stated that it is 'business as usual'.

Despite the horror of being captured mid-journey, and in spite of the dangers, the demand for smuggler's services in Malaysia remains strong.

Not even the prospect of being turned away by Australia will deter the desperate.

Our Government claims returned refugees will be forced to join the back of the orderly queue. However, there is nothing orderly in the life of an asylum seeker in Malaysia. It is a life with no rights.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. This means 93,000 refugees and asylum seekers in this country are officially unrecognised.

They live in the shadows, on the run from paramilitary forces called RELA, who have the power to hunt them down and round them up like dogs, arresting them for being undocumented workers, or for not having visas.

But that's the point - refugees don't have visas. They've fled their countries in fear of their lives, only to arrive in Malaysia, where they are often locked up in places normally reserved for hardened criminals.

Malaysia stands to gain $300 million from Australia, should the refugee deal go ahead. The human rights of the returned asylum seekers is crucial to the United Nations support of the deal.

Everywhere we travelled in Malaysia, we met refugees who were caning victims - a practice recognised by United Nations conventions as torture.

Our government says the 800 asylum seekers we send to Malaysia will be protected.

"The agreements indicate respect for fundamental human rights, and clearly that indicates no caning," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said.

"Well with the best will in the world, I just don't see how those guarantees can mean something on the ground," said Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison.

Visiting refugee communities in Malaysia last week, Scott Morrison said it's fantasy for our Government to expect Malaysia to treat the asylum seekers we send them humanely, when all evidence on the ground is to the contrary.

Their vulnerabilities are there every day, and the greatest anxieties that mental health workers talk about here is fear. Fear of being taken away, fear of being harassed. Some don't even let their children outside to play, living a life of complete vulnerability, where legals protections appear to be completely arbitrary.

That's what refugee Aiesha was told by the two men who brutally raped her. The men were police officers.

Aiesha had committed no crime. She was on her way to the shops when she was stopped by the police and asked for her documents. Being a refugee, she didn't have any. Her story is a common one in Malaysia.

Some refugees are sold into sexual slavery, others work eighteen-hour days at the markets. Their wage is $1 dollar a day, and with no money to pay rent, living conditions are cramped and unhygienic.

Patrick is one of the 90,000 refugees and asylum seekers who hides behind Malaysia's veneer of modernity, progress and democracy. He is tired of being viewed as a criminal.

"We come here not because (it's) our choice, but because circumstances compel us," he said.

Patrick's life is one of pain, and he has the scars to prove it.

The threat of their boat being turned around, or even the threat of dying at sea, really means nothing to these people.

Patrick's father was murdered by the Burmese regime, and he has scars all over his body as a result of what happened to him. When soldiers wanted to acquire some of his land, he refused, and so they beat him within an inch of his life. He fled to Malaysia, but his life here is awful, and now he wants to get on a boat to go to Australia. In Australia some people call this man and his children queue jumpers. Go figure.

Rafiq is another so-called queue jumper. One year ago he was arrested and detained as a result of his attempts to get out of Malaysia and head to Australia. But he's unperturbed, and planning another trip. It will cost between $10,000 - $15,000 for the boat, and $1000 for the agent. The costs will be spread between seven or eight families, or about 30 people.

He knows about the Malaysia Solution, and he knows the oats maybe turned back, but he doesn't care. He says his life is so miserable here, and it's such an awful existence, he'll risk anything to get on that boat and head to Australia.

The truth is, Rafiq may never have needed to board a boat if Australia was to substantially increase its intake of refugees from the so-called queue.

For all the talk of doing our share, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2010 Global Trends Report, Australia has one of the least generous intakes of refugees in the developed world.

Relative to our wealth or per capita GDP Germany, the UK, France, USA, Canada, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Norway all take more refugees than us.

Just 2.9 per cent of Australia's migration intake came from boat arrivals in 2009-10.

Our government is about to spend an extra $300 million dollars in an attempt to stop less than three per cent of our migration intake.

It is unlikely the government will listen to Scott Morrison. But if you listen to those the Malaysia Solution is aimed at, the message is clear.

They need a safe place to live, and the Malaysia solution won't stop them boarding a boat bound for Australia.

Tell us what you think of Today Tonight's exclusive investigation here.

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