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Refugee swap deal will worsen situation

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There are no safeguards for undocumented migrant and asylum seekers in Malaysia: they’re open to arrest and detention in immigration detention centres, says Angeline Loh in an interview with Radio Australia.

A crowded immigration detention camp in Malaysia

A vote on the Australian government’s proposed changes to migration laws has been delayed until the middle of next month.

The bill, which would pave the way for the asylum seeker deal with Malaysia, won’t pass the Senate because neither the Opposition nor the Greens will support it.

Now, a human rights organisation says the refugee swap deal will only exacerbate the situation of undocumented people already in Malaysia.

Angeline Loh is a human rights advocate from the Malaysian group, Aliran.

She says genuine refugees in Malaysia are already suffering because they are not allowed to work, including the 90000 people holding UNHCR cards.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Angeline Loh, human rights advocate, Aliran

LOH: To begin with, refugees and asylum-seekers usually come in as undocumented migrants. The trouble is that our laws do not recognise refugees. It doesn’t matter whether they are UNHCR-certified, because even with the UNHCR card, because they’re not legally recognised, they’re still considered undocumented.

The experience of refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia is a hard one; because they do not have a right to work, they do not have a right to education, they cannot open small businesses to survive on. How do you live, you can’t earn anything. Even though you have the advantage of having your health care or hospital bill discounted by fifty per cent. But there is a catch, the fifty per cent they’re giving you, is fifty per cent of expatriate fees.

LAM: So the charges are at a higher rate, anyway, compared to local fees?

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LOH: Yes, yes. UNHCR does not usually give money to the refugees. They do not supply a lot of services. Their aim for being there is that they assess and they give you refugee status. Of course, try to resettle and things like that. The UNHCR does have NGO partners, who provide certain services like medical treatment, health care, welfare services, education for the children.

What are the numbers we’re talking about here, those with UNHCR cards?

About 90000-plus in Malaysia alone. Those who were not registered can be any number really, possibly more than that.

So given that you have 90000-plus UNHCR-certified, genuine refugees languishing in Malaysia, not being allowed to work, surely the Malaysia Solution that’s proposed by the Australian government and indeed, agreed to, by their Malaysian counterparts, that’s a good thing, isn’t it, because under that, four thousand of these refugees will be allowed to come to Australia?

Yes, but they’re sending 800 asylum-seekers into Malaysia, and the system in Malaysia is not… I mean, it’s like adding to the problem in Malaysia, because out of the 90000, four thousand (to be taken by Australia) is a rather small number. So what happens to the rest of these refugees?

Many human rights advocates oppose the Malaysia Solution because they say there are no safeguards for the protection of asylum-seekers who are sent to Malaysia. What’s your view?

I would agree with that view because the thing is that, there really are no safeguards. If they are looked at as undocumented, then the law that applies to them, is that they’re open to arrest and detention in immigration detention centres. When you work, you work illegally. And when you work illegally, your contract of work is illegal, you cannot enforce any labour rights and there’ll be no compensation for industrial injury.

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Do you think the Malaysian authorities’ attitude reflects the wider community attitudes towards undocumented people?

I would say that the role of the media plays quite a lot, in the sense that the perception of refugees and asylum-seekers and migrants, in general, you know, depends on what the media tells people. But it also stems from the government policies and the government’s attitude towards these migrants.

But the government does not have a positive attitude towards the migrants in that, they see them as a security risk. Well, it’s not just the government, but the Opposition, across the board, political parties also see migrants as not a plus, not politically good. And also, it’s important that the Malaysian government signs the Refugee Convention.

You know, people are getting more aware of things, not because of the mainstream media, but because they go on the internet. The internet has been a very big eye-opener for the country.

Including social media on the internet?


So Twitter and Facebook and blogs, you think that that’s helped to educate many Malaysians on this issue?

Yes, it has helped to open their eyes to a lot more issues than they did before.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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