Saturday, August 6, 2011

‘No’ to child refugees in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: News that 19 minors will be among the first batch of refugees to arrive in Malaysia from Australia on Sunday has sparked outrage against the governments of both countries.
The boatload of 54 Afghan refugees that was intercepted in Australian waters earlier this week are currently in Christmas Island.
They are expected to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur by tomorrow.
On Thursday night two senior Malaysian police officers flew into Christmas Island to inspect the process of selecting asylum-seekers for transfer.
The refugee swap deal between both countries was signed on July 25 amid strong protests that refugees arriving in Australia would be sent to a country with a shocking human rights record.
To date neither government has released any further information on where the refugees will be staying upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur or how they will seek employment and so forth.
There was also a glaring omission of children – accompanied or unaccompanied – in the agreement.
Therefore the latest announcement that a group of minors – 13 of whom are unaccompanied – will be part of this first group here has intensified criticism of the deal.
Suaram Project Coordinator, Andika Abdul Wahab, lamented that the biggest problem is that no one knows anything about the deal.
“The governments have said that the refugees will be placed in a community cente here but where is that centre?”
“Even our colleagues in Australia are in the dark.
“So there is a strong possibility that these 54 refugees will be temporarily placed in a detention centre instead,” he said.
Malaysia tight-lipped
Andika said Suaram was against the whole swap deal.
“Suaram is against this deal in its entirety because as long as these people are human they have their rights and Australia is in no position to kick them out.
Malaysia on the other hand should treat these people according to the Convention of the Rights of the Child which it ratified in 1995.”
Amnesty International Malaysia, which is closely monitoring the situation, also vented its frustration over the Malaysian government’s refusal to reveal any details on the deal.
“This is madness…The government has been so tight-lipped over everything.
“We don’t even know what time they are arriving on Sunday, whether its a commercial or chartered flight…nothing.”
“And the fact that children will arrive here is extremely very worrying because who will be responsible for their wellbeing?
“This whole deal is like “batuk di hujung tangga” (to not pursue something wholeheartedly),” said its executive director, Nora Murat.
Human rights lawyer, Andrew Khoo, had earlier told FMT, said that it would take a month for the details of the swap deal to be ironed out and for the arrangements to be fully operational.
But when contacted yesterday a surprised Khoo panned the Australian government for displaying negligence over the protection of children.”
“It is not in their best interest to be sent to Malaysia and Australia should have shown more moral and legal responsibility,” he said.
“I’m also very surprised that this first batch includes 19 minors.
“That’s a significant 20% of the boatload and very worrying.”
‘Children vulnerable in Malaysia’
Meanwhile Australia’s opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, has slammed his government for creating a Catch 22 situation.
Morrison, who had visited Malaysia in June and gave a thumbs down on the refugee conditions here, declared that the Australian government would fail regardless of its next move.
He pointed out that the government cannot give the same assurance that refugees would be protected in Malaysia as they are in Nauru.
“They know children are vulnerable in Malaysia, they know they can’t send them all there.
“And they only have to make one exception for that to become the rule for people smugglers.”
“And the government just doesn’t seem to understand that.
“They think they can just put out a YouTube video and say there won’t be blanket exemptions,” he told ABC news yesterday.
The Australian government will post on YouTube, images of so-called boatpeople being turned away and sent to Malaysia, in an effort to deter asylum seekers.
But Morrison argued: “Children are always going to turn up and they simply don’t have an answer, and the people smugglers will see right through that.”
Meanwhile Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, has refused to confirm the fate of the minors but said that as of yesterday no decision had been made to let any of them stay in Australia.