The Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom) is deeply concerned over the Australian government’s plan to deport 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia.
This raises a few fundamental questions. Why does the Australian government, which is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, want to deport the 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the Convention? Who are the 800 asylum seekers and where do they come from? What kind of protection can the Malaysian government give them? How long is the UNHCR identification process and where will they be placed during the whole process? Who will be the 4000 refugee that will be resettled to Australia? How long will the Australian government send the asylum seekers to Malaysia and how will Malaysia manage them when the number increases over the years?
Merhrom believes not all the 800 asylum seekers are smuggled to Australia. We believe there are genuine asylum seekers among them. We believe among them will be Rohingya who flee prosecution from our country. Back in 2008 we were shocked by the boat people tragedy in which asylum seekers from Myanmar drifted in the see and some of them died. Some landed in the Andaman Sea and some in Indonesia. We were also shocked to see how the Thai authorities treated them when they landed in Thai waters. They risk their lives in order to escape from the brutal junta. Experience showed wherever they reached, they are not treated as asylum seekers.
We, the Rohingya, were made stateless by the junta. We faced systematic prosecution and persecution by the junta in many ways for many years. That is the only reason why many of us fled and became refugees in foreign lands. Many international organisations came out with reports on the persecution faced by the Rohingya. Until now, however, many world leaders have closed their eyes to our plight. There is no real solution for us.
According to the Australian government, the deportation will help put people smugglers out of business and prevent asylum seekers making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat. But it is not clear how this will stop the smugglers from doing their business knowing that they are as smart as the traffickers. This scheme also cannot stop asylum seekers, whose lives may be in danger, from embarking on a dangerous journey to whichever destination they choose.
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It is also confusing: if the Australian government can accept thousands of refugees and asylum seekers over the years, why can’t they accept these 800 asylum seekers? Who are these 800 asylum seekers?
The Australian government’s plan cannot be accepted at all as it will bring about more problems than a solution. The asylum seekers are not commodities that can be exchanged at any time. We are human beings with feeling just like you. Sending the asylum seekers to Malaysia will not solve the problem of refugees and asylum seekers in the region. The root causes of the problem must be targeted if world leaders are serious about tackling the problem.
We urge the Australian and Malaysian governments to stop the deportation and conduct a thorough investigation into the plight of these asylum seekers so that their rights are protected. Since the Australian government is a signatory to the 1951 Convention, they are obliged to protect the rights and safety of refugees and asylum Seekers. The Australian government can only send the asylum seekers to Malaysia after Malaysia grants full protection of refugees and asylum seekers. This means Malaysia must sign the 1951 Refugee Convention before making a bigger commitment on refugees and asylum seekers.
On 1-17 August 2006, over 5000 Rohingya refugees registered with the Immigration Department for the IMM 13 document. We paid RM90 per head. The IMM 13 document allows Rohingya refugees to work and obtain access to education and health care. Until now, however, we have not yet received the IMM 13 document. Our situation remains the same for the past three decades. There is no future for our next generation. What will happen to us? We appeal to the Malaysian government to solve the problem of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia first before taking in a new group of asylum seekers.
We urge the UNHCR and world leaders to play their role in making sure the rights of refugees and asylum seekers are protected and guaranteed at all times. The silence of the UNHCR and the world leaders over this issue raises question mark.
Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani is president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom)