Labor’s scapegoating of refugees continues to reach new lows. The so called ‘Malaysian solution’ will see 800 ‘unprocessed’ refugees sent to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 ‘processed’ refugees being sent to Australia. Even unaccompanied children and pregnant women will not be excluded from the deal.
For the 800 people sent to Malaysia cruel conditions will await them. Malaysia is known to have some of the most brutal conditions for refugees in the region. Malaysian law does not recognise refugee status, therefore people are treated simply as ‘illegal immigrants’. Refugees are denied welfare, healthcare, education and the right to work. Asylum seekers in Malaysia have also been subject to caning.
At the moment it is estimated there are around 100,000 refugees living in Malaysia. In 2009 less than 10% of them were resettled, those left face years of imprisonment.
What is most shocking for many people in Australia is that the ‘Malaysian solution’ is a policy that is even more inhumane than those implemented by John Howard. It is a continuation of the racist scare tactics that many people thought would end when the Liberals lost power in 2007.
The truth is that Labor has never represented a progressive alternative to the Liberals on this issue. During Howard’s reign Labor supported virtually every move to toughen laws against asylum seekers.
It is true that when elected Labor was forced to give some concessions on offshore detention, Temporary Protection Visas and refugee detention debts, but these changes were more cosmetic than fundamental. Additionally public opinion was demanding a more humane approach towards refugees in the aftermath of dozens of protests both inside and outside the detention centres.
Today the Gillard Government is using refugees as political cannon fodder in order to divert attention away from the real issues that working people face. Rather than focusing our anger on the bankers, the profiteers and the speculators, Labor would like us believe that refugees are responsible for rising costs of living, increasing underemployment and the possibility of a second financial crisis.
At the moment most refugees coming to Australia come from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. In all three countries the Australian government is contributing to the instability that exists. If the government withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, stoped supporting the US war effort in Iraq and ended all financing of the murderous regime in Sri Lanka, this would go a long way towards people in these countries not having to flee their homes.
We need to push for an immediate end the policy of mandatory detention. Refugees that arrive here by either boat or plane should be allowed to settle in the community while they are being processed. This was the case prior to the 1990s. At the same time refugees, and all workers, should have the right to decent jobs, homes and services.
On top of these basic demands for refugee rights socialists explain that it is the capitalist system that is at the root of all the problems we face. A socialist system that was based on human need rather than profits would be capable of using the wealth in society to provide a decent standard of life for all.
We need to rebuild the refugee rights movement by linking up the treatment of refugees with the broader questions of war, jobs and services, and fighting for an alternative to the profit driven system of capitalism.
By SP reporters