The Gillard government has signed a deal to send 800 ‘unprocessed’ asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 asylum seekers who have already been granted refugee status by the United Nations (UN).
The deal was signed despite the fact that refugees in Malaysia face horrific conditions in detention. Further, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has not approved the deal. This was a condition that Kevin Rudd said was to be central to the plan. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and is known to have some of the most brutal conditions for refugees in the region.
In the lead up to the last election Labor criticised Howard’s ‘Pacific solution’ but now they have a plan that is arguably worse in the ‘Malaysia Solution’.
Those sent to Malaysia will be dumped alongside the estimated 90,000 other refugees in that country. Despite Gillard claiming these refugees would be “treated with dignity and respect in accordance with human rights”, the appendix states that they will only have “access to the same support as other asylum seekers and refugees”. It states that they will not be provided with accommodation beyond the first month, or any other support services.
Part of the access to healthcare Gillard claimed would be part of the deal is simply “access to an existing UNHCR ‘hotline’ so they can identify any issues impacting their welfare.”
According to Chris Bowen, the Minister for Immigration, Labor was elected on a programme that included more humane treatment of refugees. After coming to power in 2007 Labor made a few cosmetic changes, including scrapping Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), but maintained the policy of mandatory detention; in effect punishing people most in need of help.
The brutality of mandatory detention has been recently highlighted by three young boys in detention who sewed their lips together in desperation, not knowing when they will be released. The privately contracted prison guards couldn’t even answer simple questions as to whether they had received medical attention and denied them visitors. The Department of Immigration has revealed that there have been 1132 instances of actual or threatened self harm in the detention system over the last 12 months.
To add insult to injury Labor are now reintroducing TPVs, the use of which contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention. This is a far cry from anything resembling a ‘humane’ policy. It also shows that UN agreements are not worth the paper they’re written on. The Labor Government is in breech of many international laws yet no action is taken against them.
While it is correct to welcome the 4000 refugees from Malaysia, there can be no support for the plan to condemn 800 to a life of poverty and uncertainty. The hypocrisy of the plan is clear; Labor is trading humans with Malaysia while it decries people smugglers for the same activity.
Both Labor and the Liberals peddle the line that we must “stop the boats”. Much fuss is made about the so-called ‘pull factors’ but little is said about the reasons people are forced to flee their homes in the first place.
Current estimates put the number of displaced people in the world at 43 million. Asylum seekers will naturally attempt to make the dangerous journey to Australia if it means escaping war and persecution. It is not a crime to seek asylum, yet Gillard and Bowen seem determined to criminalise people who are fleeing from the horrors of capitalism.
Much has been made in the media about the costs associated with the locking up asylum seekers and the Malaysian ‘solution’. It is costly to keep people locked up; costly to the taxpayer, and costly in terms of the mental health problems faced by asylum seekers already in a fragile state having fled desperate situations.
It would be a far better option to allow asylum seekers to be housed in the community where they can get on with rebuilding their lives and contribute to the economy with a job and by creating demand for services. Australia is the only developed country that instead spends millions of dollars on locking people up.
Both Labor and the Liberals attempt to foster the idea that it is because of refugees that we face social problems and increasing costs of living. This is far from the truth. The drive behind this stance is to divert attention away from the weakness of the Australian economy and the real causes of unemployment and insecurity.
The job of socialists is to point out the real source of the problems we face; the major parties, the government and the capitalist system they uphold. We fight for a humane socialist system which could meet the needs of all including refugees.
By David Suter