Why don’t all asylum seekers just stay in Malaysia?
It is often asserted that the refugees arriving in boats to Australia could safely stay in countries such as Malaysia that they pass through on the way. Before giving credence to such an idea, it is worth examining some of the evidence.
As the Malaysian Immigration Act of 1959/1963 does not distinguish between undocumented migrant workers and refugees, all those without valid residency status are subject to arrest, detention, and deportation. The People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA), numbering half a million members, is empowered by law to enter any premises and arrest “undesirable persons” and suspected undocumented migrants.
No search or arrest warrants are necessary. During 2007, close to 60,000 migrants-including children-were arrested, imprisoned, or deported. Most migrant children are denied access to schools and some end up in exploitative forms of child labor.
Or there is this evidence in a new report from a US Senate Committee:
The report, the first of three, states that Malaysia does not officially recognise refugees, due in part to concern by the government that official recognition of refugees would encourage more people to enter Malaysia, primarily for economic reasons.
Malaysia does not recognise key international agreements on the protection of refugees and foreign nationals. Nor does it apply to foreign migrants the same rights and legal protections given to Malaysian citizens.
Foreign labor is an integral building block of Malaysia’s upward economic mobility. While Malaysia’s total workforce is 11.3 million, there are approximately 2.1 million legal foreign workers and an additional one million illegal workers, though no accurate information is available.
While Malaysia accepts the presence of Burmese and others from outside of the country for the purpose of contributing to the work force, persons identified as refugees and asylum seekers on their way to a third country are viewed as threats to national security.
In an interview with The New York Times, RELA’s director-general, Zaidon Asmuni, said, “We have no more Communists at the moment, but we are now facing illegal immigrants. As you know, in Malaysia, illegal immigrants are enemy No. 2.”
The report highlights the plight of Burmese migrants who crossed Thailand into Malaysia in the hope of registering with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and being resettled in a third country.
According to the investigation, Malaysian officials have transported migrants, including some who registered with UNHCR, from detention centres to the Thai border for deportation. Refugees were handed to traffickers there, unless they could pay a ransom.
“Migrants state that those unable to pay are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests ranging from fishing boats to brothels,” said the report.
To assert, as some people do, that refugees are economic migrants just because they won’t stay indefinitely in a situation where they are at such risk shows either ignorance or callous indifference. Anyone advocating Australia should again just turn refugee boats back and do everything possible to block refugee arrivals should also outline what approach should be taken to stop such massive, regular human rights abuses against refugees from continuing to occur in our own region.
PS: More information here about life for Burmese refugees along the Thai-Burma border.
ELSEWHERE: Nayano at a Possie in Aussie notes an Age article reporting on a trip by an Australian government security advisor to Malaysia and Sri Lanka, seeking to stop the movement of asylum seekers “at source.” No mention of what might be done to ensure the persecution I’ve written about above doesn’t happen to anyone who is stopped “at source” in Malaysia.