The Australian government announced plans Tuesday to film the first group of asylum seekers it sends to Malaysia under the new refugee swap deal between the two countries.
The government hopes that by filming the “boat people” and the process of expulsion, and posting the videos to YouTube, that it will deter other refugees from making the dangerous trip.
Cameramen will film the refugees as they move from Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre, to a plane to Malaysia, and finally as they are processed at a Malaysian accommodation facility.
The group is made up of 54 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan whose boat was intercepted in the Indian Ocean last Sunday. If they try to resist, they may be met with force, as police have been authorised to use all means necessary to make sure the asylum-seekers board the plane to Kuala Lumpur.
Report & Analysis: Australia to post expulsions on YouTube in bid to deter refugees [The Independent, 3 Aug 2011]
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that the videos would send a clear message to the people-smugglers who seek to take advantage of desperate people.
“We know that people-smugglers tell lies, we know that people-smuggles will be out there saying, ‘Look, this won’t apply to you,’” he said, “and we think it’s only fair to show very clearly the government’s new policies in operation.”
Bowen also is not concerned about the fact that many of the refugees hail from impoverished nations such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and may not have access to the Internet, to view the videos.
"We know that many asylum-seekers throughout the region do follow closely what's happening in Australia; they follow closely announcements of policy changes and they are watching this arrangement quite closely," he said.
"So yes, I do think that many people would have access to that sort of social media and word-of-mouth will spread quickly from those who do have that access to those who don't."
Report & Analysis: Australia YouTube clips to frighten off asylum-seekers [ChannelNews Asia, 2 Aug 2011]
However, the numbers do not seem to support Bowen’s claim. In addition to the boat of 54 that has already been detained, The Australian newspaper reported that at least two more asylum boats were being prepared, as people-smugglers seek to test the new deal and attempt to exploit loopholes in the arrangement. Pakistani Haji Sakhi, the leader of one of the South Asian people-smuggling syndicates operating out of Jakarta, is said to have organised the latest boat.
According to acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, “Already it’s evident that the people smuggling syndicates will put pressure on this deal by sending more boats.”
“In the last 12 weeks over 621 people have arrived on boats,” she continued. “So the Malaysia people swap deal will be exhausted.”
Report & Analysis: Smugglers prepare to test ‘Malaysian Solution’ [Today Online, 2 Aug 2011]
The refugee swap deal, finalised last week, calls for Australia to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in exchange for taking 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia awaiting resettlement. The plan is being called the “Malaysian Solution” by many, after the “Pacific Solution” developed by former Prime Minister John Howard, which called for refugees to be sent to remote Pacific islands. The international human rights community has condemned the latest deal, as it calls for asylum-seekers to be sent to a country that has not signed the UN convention on the treatment of refugees.
The Australian Labor government is trying to show voters it can take a hard-line stance on boat people, while seeking to deter the asylum-seekers from making the trip in the first place. Still, the scope of the problem in Australia is, in fact, tiny. Australia receives less than 0.5% of the world’s asylum-seekers, with 6,500 reaching the country by boat last year, and only 1,000 having traveled to Australia by boat through mid-April of this year.
Report & Analysis: Australia YouTube clips to frighten off asylum-seekers [AFP, 2 Aug 2011]
Report & Analysis: Australia uses YouTube to scare off asylum seekers [The Telegraph, 2 Aug 2011]