Malaysian and Australian socialists: `Refugees are not commodities! No outsourcing refugee obligations to Malaysia!'

Joint statement of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) and the Socialist Alliance (Australia)

May 18, 2011 -- The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) and the Socialist Alliance in Australia denounce the recent agreement made between the governments of Malaysia and Australia, whereby Australia will send 800 asylum seekers who have been detained by Australian authorities to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 refugees currently in Malaysia.

The arrangement for this “Malaysian solution” to asylum seekers attempting to arrive in Australia clearly shows that the Australian government is washing its hands of its responsibility to protect refugees and is “off-shoring” or “outsourcing” the violation of refugee rights to Malaysia, a country with no proper legal instruments to protect the rights of refugees. Both the governments of Malaysia and Australia have not taken the plight of refugees and asylum seekers seriously, and only treat them like trade-able commodities.

Malaysia is not party to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and it does not have laws that recognise asylum seekers or refugees and provide protection to them. Instead, asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia face a high risk of being detained by the notorious authorities as “illegal immigrants” and subject to human rights violations. Refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia cannot legally work nor access decent housing, healthcare or education -- making them extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Whereas, Australia, which is party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, should have taken the responsibility to accept asylum seekers and refugees in order to provide them with protection and help, instead of sending them to a country that does not even recognise the concept of asylum seekers or refugees in its laws.

This deal between Australia and Malaysia is designed to reinforce the propaganda that asylum seekers need to come to Australia by the “front door” after waiting in a “queue” rather than “jumping the queue” and coming in by the “back door” by boat. The reality is that there is no queue in war-torn countries like Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, where most of these refugees have fled. There is no way you can apply for asylum in countries like these. Asylum seekers arriving by boat are just as deserving as asylum seekers arriving in Australia by other means.

Australia, which is far wealthier and better resourced to help those seeking asylum than it's poorer neighbours, needs to dramatically increase the refugee quota, particularly the number of refugees it resettles from poorer countries which shoulder a much larger refugee burden. Some of the asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat have already been assessed by the UNHCR in Indonesia or Malaysia to be genuine refugees but when faced with 10 or more years waiting for resettlement in intolerable conditions, they get on boats in desperation.

If the Australian government was genuine about resettling refugees, it would accept all of the refugees waiting for resettlement in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The PSM and the Socialist Alliance demand:

  • The governments of Malaysia and Australia must stop their exchange of asylum seekers and refugees;
  • The Australian government must accept all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and not send them to other countries which are not parties to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention;
  • The Australian government must abandon its mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat and its attempts to re-establish an off-shore detention centre in PNG and the attempt to do a deal with Thailand and other countries along the same lines as the deal with Malaysia;
  • Malaysia must sign and ratify the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1976 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and protect the rights of all asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia.