Hishammuddin compromises Malaysia’s national security by his blind acceptance of 800 boat people rejected by Australia

By Teresa Kok

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s callous support of the refugee swap between Malaysia and Australia is appalling in his attitude towards human life as a mere commodity that can be traded for money, even as he jeopardizes Malaysia’s national security. (Source: Malaysia prepared to receive asylum seekers from Australia as part of deal http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2011/8/10/nation/9267202&sec=nation)

This refugee swap will see Malaysia exchange 4000 UNHCR-recognised refugees for 800 boat people sent by Australia, for which the Malaysia government will reportedly receive RM900 million. This exchange of money between nations for human lives is vulgar and is but a form of state-sanctioned human trafficking which I condemn unreservedly.

Hishammuddin’s blind acceptance of the 800 boat people who are effectively Australia’s “rejects” puts Malaysia’s national security at risk. These 800 boat people who are newly-arrived in Australia would not have been screened by UNHCR, thus they are likely not genuine refugees at all. They can come from any and all countries. Their backgrounds, language ability, work skills are unclear and dubious. Hishammuddin hasn’t got a clue who he is welcoming onto our shores.

Since the 800 were arrested attempting to enter Australia through illegal means, it is possible that they may have criminal backgrounds and links to underground syndicates. According to statements made by the Australian Government, these 800 will be allowed to move freely in Malaysia and be able to work as well. By allowing these 800 to enter Malaysia, Hishammuddin is inviting problems into our home.

In contrast to the 800, the 4,000 currently in Malaysia should be allowed to remain in Malaysia instead of being displaced yet again and shunted off to Australia because they are genuine refugees who have been screened by UNHCR. Most of them are Burmese refugees who have been in Malaysia for one to two decades. Many have had their children born in Malaysia, which makes Malaysia the only country their children have ever known. These refugees have grown accustomed to the local environment and formed social ties within themselves and with some Malaysians. Many have learnt to communicate in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

Cancel the agreement and let the 4000 refugees live and work in Malaysia

I urge the Malaysian Government to call off the agreement with the Australian Government, recognise the refugee status of these 4,000 and allow them to enter the Malaysia’s job market to alleviate the worker shortage in Malaysia. The Labour Department has reported that there are 60,000 jobs waiting to be filled right now in Selangor alone. Some industrialists have found it a challenge to open or expand their business in Malaysia due to shortage of workers.

Therefore, allowing these refugees to work would be beneficial for both our Malaysian economy as well as for the refugees. It will allow the refugees the opportunity to earn an income and provide them with a sense of human dignity, in contrast to their current statelessness. The UNHCR, Pakatan Rakyat MPs and I have repeatedly proposed this mutually-beneficial arrangement to the Malaysian Government but our proposal has fallen onto deaf ears.

Furthermore, I have no faith whatsoever in Prime Minister Najib’s statement that the 800 boat people being deported to Malaysia “will be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with human rights standards” because until today, Malaysia has not established a comprehensive national legal and administrative framework for the protection of refugees despite having been a refugee-destination country since the Vietnam War.

In addition, Malaysia has an appalling track record of whipping undocumented migrants as punishment and forcing them to live in inhumane conditions while in detention.

Malaysian Federal Government refuses to provide details of agreement

I was in Australia on a Selangor State Government investment promotion mission from 25 July to 1 August 2011. Every single day, I saw news of this refugee swap being heavily reported in the Australian newspapers, radio and television. The Australian Government has had to do much explanation to so many concerned and vocal Australians and organizations regarding the details of this deal, and rightly so. 

In contrast, the Malaysian Government has kept mum on the details of the agreement, intentionally leaving Malaysians in the dark on with many unanswered questions.

1.      Why should Malaysia send away 4000 UNHCR-recognised refugees when refugees should be given asylum and protection?

2.      How can Malaysia promise that the human rights of the 800 boat people will be respected when Malaysia remains in denial of its appalling track record in the treatment of undocumented migrants?

3.      Most of all, what do Malaysians get in return for accepting 800 boat people of unknown and dubious background onto our land?  Is the Malaysian Government not creating a potential security time-bomb for all Malaysians for the short-term gain of RM900 million? 

The Malaysian Government has the duty to make public the content of the agreement in the interest of national security and yet there has been so little transparency and accountability. Hishammuddin Hussein has a lot to answer for.