“Asylum Swap” does not deter asylum seekers’ voyage to Australia

24 June 2011: Letter to Editor

“Asylum Swap” does not deter asylum seekers’ voyage to Australia

SUARAM reminds both Australian and Malaysian governments that the proposed asylum swap is ineffective to break the human trafficking and smuggling business model.

How can both governments say that this asylum swap could break the human trafficking model when asylum seekers (including refugees) are not afraid to travel to Australia? In the meantime, smugglers, traffickers and “agents” do not care if the asylum seeker is arrested and sent back to Malaysia. The human trafficker, smuggler and agent will continue to provide service if there is still demand – “this is a model of regular business”.

Asylum seekers are not afraid!

SUARAM has approached these people and discovered that most asylum seekers and refugees still want to go to Australia. “No one can restrict me and my family to take a boat to Australia even though we might face death, arrest and sent back to Malaysia under the new arrangement. We don’t care of being arrested and sent back to Malaysia. We are not scared of death, drowning or fall down into the deep ocean, stuck in Indonesia or Timor Leste because we are already suffering here. We are already dead here in Malaysia,” said one asylum seeker.

Is this what they call “deterrence”? Can this arrangement restrict them from taking a boat and reach Australia? Can this break the business model of human trafficking and smuggling? Can this arrangement prevent the trafficker, smuggler and agent to provide their services and refuse to get money from asylum seeker who wants to buy a boat or to get their expertise to drive the boat, read the map and using the rat trails?

“Asylum Swap” fails to address the root causes

If both governments seriously want to break the human trafficking and smuggling model, they must look deeply into the root causes that make these asylum-seekers desperate to want to travel to Australia although they have to face many risks.

According to an asylum seeker, they have no access to basic needs in Malaysia such as education for their children, employment to support their family and inadequate access to hospitalization. “We don’t care if we don’t have education but we want our children to go school. We don’t want them to be like us occupying dirty jobs. In the meantime, police patrols are everywhere and are asking money from us. If don’t give, we will be brought to the police station and can be charged and caned. These are among the root causes which compel them to travel to Australia illegally although being threatened by this proposed arrangement.

UNHCR and refugee status. Are there any assurances for protection?

A refugee said they (UNHCR) are helping him to get a UNHCR card but it does not guarantee any better treatment. “I am holding this UNHCR card for 5 years but don’t have access to employment, my children do not get education (formally) and can be arrested at anytime and anywhere. So, what does it mean? I am also waiting for resettlement for a long period and my children were delivered here without birth certificates. We don’t have a life here and we have to travel for a better future.”

In the meantime, the Mission Report by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) during its visit to Malaysia from 7-18 June 2010 mentioned that the detention of refugees and asylum-seekers are “systematic”. This is because the UNHCR card holders are not exempted from arrests and detentions according to the report. What does it (refugee status) mean? Again, are there any assurances that refugees and asylum seekers will be protected?

Human Rights must not be sidelined in combating human trafficking

SUARAM is of the view that poor human rights treatment is the root cause of the desperation that these vulnerable people go to Australia by boat even though they face dangers and face the risk of being transferred back to Malaysia.

SUARAM, again reminds both governments and UNHCR, as a third party that human trafficking and smuggling issues must not be treated merely as a crime but must also be inclusive and comprehensive with regards to the human rights of the individuals involved. States must also take into consideration that refugees fleeing harm and persecution sometimes use whatever means they deem necessary to seek protection. There is no compromise for human rights and all crime prevention plans undertaken must be consistent with human rights principles.
Withdraw the swap and ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention!
SUARAM urges the Australian government to immediately withdraw the proposed asylum swap with the Malaysian government.
SUARAM also urges the Malaysian government to immediately ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol in order to protect and promote the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in this country before taking further action to deal with the refugee initiatives when the Malaysian government does not have a clear policy on refugees.

Released by,
Andika Ab. Wahab
Refugee Coordinator
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
[email protected]