Having returned recently from working with refugee communities in Malaysia, I was shocked to see headlines stating that the government was again talking up the supposed benefits of the now defunct Malaysia agreement.
Vulnerable people are still being detained. Conditions in Malaysia's detention centres are still cramped and appalling. UNHCR is still regularly visiting the centres in order to get people released, but the ability for any other organisation to get in to see what is really happening is almost non-existent.
Children as young as three are still being detained, rounded up, without their parents.
I spoke with a 14 year old girl, Yasmeen* who had only recently arrived from Afghanistan. Facing violence in her home country she was sent by her family, on her own, to stay with family friends in Kuala Lumpur. While she had been able to register with UNHCR she was told it would be 7 months before they could interview her to determine whether or not she was a refugee.
Yasmeen chatted to me happily until her friend started talking about how the police had stopped and questioned her mother and how she managed to get away. Yasmeen’s smile rapidly disappearing, frantic questioning ensued, the cold realities of living in Malaysia as a refugee being to dawn on her.
Right now Malaysia is starting to register "undocumented migrants" including refugees under the 6P programme. So far approximately 1.3 million undocumented workers have been registered. With an estimated further million still unaccounted for it appears the Malaysian government is gearing up for another major crackdown on anyone it deems 'illegal'.
"It appears the Malaysian government is gearing up for another major crackdown on anyone it deems 'illegal'."
What will they do if they find 14 year old Yasmeen? With only a letter from UNHCR to protect her, will she be allowed to contact them to get her out of detention? How long will that take?
Equally disturbing about the Australian government’s statement, at the recent ALP conference, was the linking, again, of an increase to our offshore humanitarian program (from 13,750 to 20,000) with the successful implementation of the Malaysia agreement. UNHCR and others were quick to again highlight the fundamental differences between our obligations to protect those seeking asylum here, as opposed to an immigration resettlement program designed to show solidarity with poorer countries hosting the vast majority of the world's refugees.
As the government continues to advocate Malaysia as a 'solution', my visit showed me that the country's authorities have a very different idea for refugees. If the government believes we can take 20,000 people, then should do it and not link it to an arrangement that undermines international human rights law and our obligations under this legislation

Graham Thom is Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia

*The name and photo above have been changed to protect identities

 Source : www.amnesty.org.au