Archive for June, 2011

June 24, 2011

Malaysian lawyers warn of dangers in refugee deal

Renuka Balasubramaniam, Lawyers for Liberty (Malaysia). Photo by Peter Boyle.

Over three nights last week, hundreds of thousands of people watched something very rare: a Reality TV show that actually showed some reality! Australia’s public SBS television station showed a special 3-episode program called “Go Back To Where You Came From” about the experience of six Australians (with widely varying views about refugees and asylum seekers) when they are sent  on a 25-day trip to trace, in reverse, the routes that refugees have taken to reach Australia.

The  second episode focussed mainly on the situation of refugees in Malaysia, where Australia plans to deport some 800 desperate refugees who made it by boat to Australia. It confirmed, dramatically, what human rights activists and lawyers in Malaysia have been warning about.

Renuka Balasubramaniam, from Lawyers for Liberty (Malaysia), attended a conference on refugees at the University of NSW on June 14-17. She also addressed a June 19 rally in Sydney to mark World Refugee Day, at which she told Green Left Weekly she had little confidence in assurances by the Australian government that refugees deported to Malaysia will have special rights, including a special card that will ensure that they won’t be treated like the rest of the refugees in Malaysia.

“Off the bat you can see this is discriminatory. There are 90,000 registered refugees who have been in Malaysia, some for as many years, so how could this be justified? Is Australia promoting discrimination through this deal? What is the basis for this?”

She was also sceptical that such special treatment for these 800 refugees could be assured and recent reports confirm such scepticism.

“The Malaysian government has given assurances to the Australian government that these refugees will be detained for six weeks, processed and then released into the community.

“The problem is that once they are released into the community they are liable to be arrested for any reason because it is an offence merely to be in Malaysia without any valid documentation. Frequently, we even have registered refugees arrested.

“This is a daily occurence, due to the fact that the arresting authorities are unable to verify if the UNHCR card is an authentic one or not.  They are held in lockups until such time as the UNHCR gives a verification.

“My concern is less with those arrested in [the capital] Kuala Lumpur because the UNHCR office is right there. But if any of these 800 were to move to any city outside Kuala Lumpur,even in the outskirts or the rural areas where the authorities have not enough awareness about the situation of refugees and the cards that they hold, these refugees could end up being imprisoned or even convicted of illegal entry.”

Angeline Loh, a Malaysian human rights activist, lawyer and researcher with the Malaysian human rights organisation ALIRAN, explained to Green Left Weekly in an interview conducted in Malaysia in early June that at the heart of the problem was the fact that Malaysian laws simply do not recognise refugees and Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

“Asylum seekers in Malaysia have never had any guarantee of safety in this country as Malaysian immigration laws do not recognise those granted official UNHCR refugee status.

“Our immigration law only distinguishes between documented and undocumented migrants.”

A 2010 Amnesty International report “Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia”  pointed out that “irregular migrants are subjected to fines, imprisonment and deportation. Judges may and often do impose caning on migrants who are convicted of illegal entry: Nearly 35,000 migrants were caned between 2002 and 2008…

“Caning is deeply humiliating and extremely painful. It leaves deep welts on the buttocks that take days to heal sufficiently to dress and move ordinarily without re-opening the wounds. The practice violates the international prohibition on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

ALIRAN declared in a June 20 a statement that the ” announcement by the Australian and Malaysian governments of a refugee–asylum seeker swap deal, pending further negotiations, sent a wave of anxiety among refugee communities in Malaysia. Another door had been slammed in their faces, dashing hopes of finding a safe haven.”

It added that “there are no concrete legally binding or lasting guarantees that asylum seekers and refugees will be afforded protection against human rights violations and deportation to countries where they will be at risk.”

Balasubramaniam explained that in her work as a lawyer she receieves regular complaints from refugees of harrassment, abuse or even extortion by Malaysian officials.

“It is a regular occurence. They all have experienced that at some point or another.”

Such allegations were documented in the 2010 Amnesty International:

“Some Malaysian immigration authorities themselves engaged in trafficking in persons by delivering immigration detainees to traffickers operating on the Thai border. Amnesty International identified over a dozen cases of individuals who were trafficked in this way, sometimes more than once, between 2006 and early 2009.”

In the second episode of “Go Back To Where You Came From“, the six Australians accompanied Malaysian immigration officials on a raid on “illegal workers” —  many of whom were refugees — living in miserable shacks on a construction site. They had a taste of the terror that refugees face in Malaysia at the hand of officials.

The 2010 Amnesty Intenational report explained:

“Migrant workers are regular targets for ill-treatment and extortion by police and agents from the People’s Volunteer Corps (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat or RELA). Police are authorised by law to investigate immigration status; RELA had the same authority until mid-2009. Both police and RELA agents frequently abuse that authority, treating stops as opportunities to make money.

“Much of Malaysia’s approach to migration is effectively to criminalise it, even though the country could not function without migrant labour. Large-scale public roundups in markets and on city streets and indiscriminate, warrantless raids on private dwellings in poorer neighbourhoods send the message that being poor and foreign—regardless of immigration status—is  automatically suspicious. An ‘arrest now, investigate later’ approach to immigration enforcement prevails. Too often, in fact, the government’s approach targets the victims of human rights abuses rather than those who commit abuses.”

Balasubramaniam said in her speech to the World Refugee Day rally that she has a refugee client who lives in a shack he built for himself in the jungle. “He is surrounded by snakes, tigers and all sorts of wild animals but at night he is most terrified of being raided by police or RELA”, she said.

I asked Loh how the refugees in Malaysia are supposed to survive if they are released into the community but not allowed to work?

“You either work illegally, you do odd jobs or you find a way to grow your own food,” she replied. “What else can you do? You either work illegally or die.”

“Some go into construction work and some work in small and medium enterprises doing menial work. Some are employed in plantations as cheap labour.  Sometimes they work and don’t get paid for the work.

“We’ve had such complaints and cases. But it is difficult to act for them because they have no legal rights whatsoever. We can’t take them to the labour ministry because they will be arrested for working illegally. Any contracts they make are not enforceable by law.”

June 9, 2011

Afghanistan: Bring the troops home now!

Australian soldier in Tarin Kowt, southern Afghanistan.

Ten years of Western military occupation and war in Afghanistan has killed  hundreds of thousands of people (mostly Afghan civilians), created millions of refugees and paid billions of dollars of “aid” into the hands of brutal warlords who serve as a puppet regime for the occupiers.

In October 2010, Australian academic Dr Gideon Polya has estimated the human cost of the war on and occupation of Afghanistan to include 4.9 million “violent deaths or non-violent avoidable deaths from cccupier-imposed deprivation”. Polya noted that this is on a similar scale to the Nazi Holocaust against Jewish people in WWII.

Nothing good has come out of this war which was an unjustifiable act of revenge for the 9/11 bombings in the US. It has been a monstrous, dragged out imposition of collective punishment on people who were not the perpetrators of 9/11. Indeed, a recent survey found that the great majority Afghans have never even heard of 9/11!

We associate collective punishment of innocent civilians with barbaric regimes like that of Hitler and Stalin. But in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries invaded or bombed by the West in the 9/11 decade, the world has witnessed the governments of the so-called “democratic” West carry out an extended collective punishment of innocents.

These fine-suited, smooth-talking and smiling leaders of our governments are war criminals. If there was real international justice, they would be on trial along with the murderers of Sebrenica, Rawanda, etc.

Australia’s Labor government still refuses to obey the will of the great majority of Australians who want our troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. According  to a Galaxy poll conducted June 1-2, 62%  want to see all Australian troops home within six months. So far 27 Australian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

However, according to a June 8 story by Tim Dick in the Sydney Morning Herald even talkback radio, a bastion of conservative opinion, has turned against the intervention:

“An analysis by Media Monitors found 69 per cent of calls to talkback radio about Afghanistan were against Australian troops remaining in the war. Callers to the commercial stations 2GB and 2UE in Sydney did not want it, nor did those to the less conservative stations ABC 774 and 3AW in Melbourne, nor those to 4BC in Brisbane.”

Some Australian soldiers have begun to speak out against the intervention, the article also noted.

For the last decade Green Left Weekly has been a consistent opponent of the imperialist war in Afghanistan and has provided a valuable platform for anti-war activists. Now the tide has turned in our favour. But we won’t stop fighting on this till the last soldier in the army of occupation is withdrawn.

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