Refugees frustrated by 'lack of fairness' in Malaysia-Australia refugee swap deal

Updated On: Jul 29, 2011

Refugees in Malaysia are upset and frustrated by a lack of fairness in the recent refugee swap deal signed by Malaysia and Australia. Under the deal, Australia will send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia. The refugees will receive “special treatment,” as opposed to the traditionally poor treatment afforded refugees in the country.

The founder of a human rights group has warned that as lawlessness and instability grow in Afghanistan, oppressed ethnic minorities such as the Hazara will flee Afghanistan in large numbers for Australia.

Niamatullah Ibrahimi, the founder of a Kabul-based group Afghanistan Watch, said that the new refugee swap agreement between Australia and Malaysia would not deter many Afghans from seeking asylum in Australia. “At the end of the day, it will not affect the causes that make people flee Afghanistan and claim asylum,” he said.

Some refugees currently in Malaysia have even suggested the idea that they may attempt to travel to Australia by boat so that they, too, can receive favoured treatment.

A few hundred Hazara refugees currently living in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere in Malaysia have written a letter to the highest Australian authorities asking for help, and explaining the precarious situation they face if forced to remain in Afghanistan.  All of the signees are recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Report & Analysis: Human rights leader warns Gillard to expect flood of asylum-seekers[The Australian, 29 Jul 2011]

Amidst the criticism, Malaysia has reconsidered its position on work rights for all refugees, and Malaysian human rights commissioner James Nayagam has said that legal work rights will be extended to all refugees, not solely the 800 sent from Australia.

The refugees will be fingerprinted in an ongoing government effort to document all foreign workers in the country.

Still, there is some scepticism over the latest move, as Irene Fernandez, the executive director of the Malaysian refugee rights group “Tenaganita,” explained that refugees would have to pay a fee to be registered as legal workers, and then another to receive a work permit. As this is quite costly, Fernandez expressed concern that employers might not be willing to pay for the process.

Report & Analysis: Malaysia’s work rights for refugees [Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Jul 2011]

Amnesty International warned that the new agreement will not deter asylum-seekers from taking boats to Australia, and in fact, may actually act as a “pull factor” in stimulating more refugees.

Report: Deal a ‘pull factor’ [Canberra Times, 29 Jul 2011]

Under the $292 million agreement signed by Australia and Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, the next 800 asylum-seekers who reach Australia will be transferred to Malaysia. In return, Australia will receive 4,000 refugees from Malaysia in the next four years.

The Australian Green party has referred the deal to a Senate inquiry for investigation, with one representative claiming that “The Australian government has ignored the historic condemnation of this agreement by both houses of parliament and is intent on carrying out the forcible expulsion of 800 vulnerable people.”

The Senate will investigate whether the agreement is in accordance with Australia’s human rights standards, in addition to the full cost of the deal.

Report & Analysis: Greens send asylum seeker swap to inquiry [Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Jul 2011]

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