PRESS STATEMENT 20 JUNE 2011
World Refugee Day: ‘Asylum Swap’ Horrifying gift for refugees
The proposed asylum swap initiated by the Australian and Malaysian governments is the horrifying gift to be given to refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia in conjunction with World Refugee Day which is celebrated across the world today (20 June 2011).
Today is a historic and important day for refugees and SUARAM is appalled that both governments insist on continuing the asylum swap initiative, despite criticism from various quarters including human rights organizations in Malaysia and Australia as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
World Refugee Day is a day to raise awareness of the situation of refugees and to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees worldwide, of which almost 100,000 are registered refugees in Malaysia, in addition to thousands of asylum-seekers. This is the day we should commemorate them (refugees) and to make public aware about their hardships and misery. It is also to foster the spirit of solidarity and burden-sharing among human beings and not to horrify them.
Instead, the World Refugee Day celebration in Malaysia this year is a ‘nightmare’ and horrifying gift to be given to refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia. The proposed initiative, which is yet to be finalized would violate refugee laws according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Navi Pillay. It would also violate the international customary law of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of people to places where they may face persecution or threats to their life or freedoms, as Malaysia has an appalling record when it comes to the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
The Malaysian government is quick enough when it comes to the aid and support of Palestinians and Gaza, but is dismissive when refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia are concerned. The government should not sideline the principles of human rights when combating transnational crimes. Establishing national border protection is the responsibility of the individual state but it does not mean that the Malaysian government should constantly deny the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
There are more than 93, 000 registered refugees and thousands of asylum seekers now living in Malaysia without proper protection. The refugee swap initiative would cast a shadow on the lives of these already vulnerable people.
Refugees and asylum seekers are classified as illegal immigrants by the Immigration Act 1959/63 and can be arrested, detained and sentenced, which usually involves judicial caning by the authorities. Refugees are not allowed to work legally, have no access to formal education and have poor living conditions.
In conjunction with the World Refugee Day, SUARAM strongly urges both the governments of Malaysia and Australia to withdraw the proposed asylum swap and to respect the rights of asylum seekers to seek asylum and protection. It is also to respect the global refugee day, which is celebrated around the world.
SUARAM also urges the Malaysian government to ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in order to protect refugees and asylum-seekers living in Malaysia.
Andika Ab. Wahab
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)