The Contract promises to "Enforce strict border security and control" -
The Coalition will maintain rigorous offshore processing of those arriving illegally by boat, reintroduce temporary protection visas (to deprive people-smugglers of a product to sell) and be ready, where possible, to turn boats back.Calling King Canute?
A perspective on selective indifference is provided by a recent 20 page report from Amnesty International about Malaysia's treatment of refugees - Abused and abandoned: Refugees denied rights in Malaysia [PDF].
The report reveals a "litany of abuses suffered by refugees in Malaysia, the vast majority of whom are from Myanmar" and presumably chose not to be the children of English or Swedish professionals, study law at an EU university and come to Australia on an extended holiday. Such an omission is, it seems, an act of criminality. The AI report notes that refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia are subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention in "atrocious conditions", caning and human trafficking. It comments that -
Malaysia has consistently failed to ratify international standards that protect and promote the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. It is not a state party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the major international instruments governing refugee protection. Similarly, it is not a state party to the:The report notes that -
• International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
• UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT);
• International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
• International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
• 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Malaysia effectively maintains that refugees and asylum-seekers do not exist in the country. There is currently no legislative or administrative framework for dealing with refugees, and Malaysian law makes no distinction between refugees, asylum-seekers and irregular migrants. Refugees and asylum-seekers have no legal right to work in the country. They do not receive any assistance from the government, and some resort to working without authorization just to survive. State officials have explicitly refused to recognize refugee rights. Malaysia actively penalizes those who are deemed in breach of its immigration laws. Refugees and asylum-seekers are subject to criminal penalties, harassment, ill-treatment, extortion, unnecessary and prolonged detention. ... All are considered to be illegal and are subject to the same penalties. Entering and staying in Malaysia without a permit (illegal entry) is punishable with a fine of up to 10,000 ringgit (US$2,915), imprisonment of up to five years and, since 2002, "whipping of not more than six strokes". The same punishment, including caning, applies to those who unlawfully re-enter or reside in Malaysia after they have been deported. Overstaying a visa is punishable by a fine and imprisonment on the same terms as illegal entry – up to 10,000 ringgit and five years – but does not include caning. The same punishment applies to those who enter or leave Malaysia other than at an authorized immigration control post.It suggests that a potential solution is the introduction of government ID cards for UN-recognized refugees.
The Malaysian Constitution provides that those who are arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours or released. However, non-citizens who are arrested for immigration violations may be held for up to 14 days before being brought before a magistrate. They are then transferred to immigration detention facilities, where they can remain for extended or even indefinite periods.
A recent post by John Menadue on the ABC's Drum site comments that -
If Ben Chifley had responded only to populist prejudice, his government would not have accepted Jewish refugees after WWII. Malcolm Fraser would not have allowed large-scale Indochinese refugee programs in the 1970s and 80s if he had consulted only opinion polls. They both showed leadership in 'encouraging the better angels of our nature' as Abraham Lincoln put it.Menadue goes on to suggest that we consider facts -
Sadly an appeal to fear and xenophobia has been the more chosen route. Fear of the foreigner and the outsider is as old as human history itself. In Australia, we have a long history of demonising migrant and refugee groups. In 2010, we again have a thinly veiled appeal to racism and xenophobia, called 'protecting our borders'.
We need to correct the dangerous and wilful misrepresentation and misinformation about asylum seekers. In the longer term we need to revisit approaches that were successfully adopted in the 1980s by the Fraser Government.
• Push factors, crises such as war and persecution, force desperate people to reluctantly leave their homes. When the crisis subsides, so does the people flow.
• As an island country at the 'end of the line', Australia does not have anything like the refugee flows that occur elsewhere. In 2009, Australia received 6,170 asylum applications. In the US it was 49,020, France 41,980, Canada 33,250 and UK 29,840 At the end of 2008, there were 42 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, including over 15 million refugees. Australian exposure to asylum seekers is miniscule.
• Less than 2 per cent of Australia's migration intake comes from asylum seekers. Yet Essential Research reports that 10 per cent of Australians believe that half or more of our migrant intake were asylum seekers; 15 per cent said about 25 per cent and 13 per cent said about 10 per cent. Only about 18 per cent of Australians were close to the mark in saying only 1-2 per cent. The misinformation is working.
• The pattern varies, but the majority of asylum seekers come to Australia by air and not by sea. As the Australian Parliamentary Library put it: 'the vast majority of asylum seekers ... arrive originally by air (96 per cent - 99 per cent)'.
• Most boat arrivals who seek asylum are found to be refugees. Past figures show that between 70 per cent to 97 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat have been found to be refugees. This is far higher than for asylum seekers who come by air.
• Our exaggerated focus on boat people ignores the fact that there are about 50,000 illegal over-stayers in Australia. They are real illegals, unlike asylum seekers who are legally entitled to seek our protection whilst their claims are assessed.