Friday, 2 September 2011

The High Court and the Malaysian Solution

I was always somewhat ambivalent about the Government's "Malaysian solution". On the one hand I oppose off shore processing and I think we really need to show our compassion. On the other hand I don't want to see any more people drown making that perilous crossing.

So I'm not upset about the High Court decision. I am a little confused though, about what it means for Manus Island and Nauru. I really hope it means that both are off the table. Of course that won't stop Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison spruiking Nauru. But then neither of them give me any pride in being Australian.

I do think the idea of a regional solution to refugee processing has merit. Perhaps the best way to "stop the boats" is to process the refugee claimants in Malaysia or Indonesia before they ever get on a boat. It might mean that we end up taking a few more refugees, but I think we can cope (Canada takes over 165,000 per year compared to our 22,000).

Of course Labor may well fear an electoral backlash. But let's face it - the bigots are going to be voting for the Coalition anyway. A more compassionate policy may at least stop the haemorrhaging of progressive voters to the Greens (who have been very effective at wedging Labor on this issue).

Edit: An interesting opinion on the issue.

Edit 12/10: Malaysia a better option for asylum seekers, says UN:
ASYLUM seekers would receive better protections in Malaysia under the Gillard government's proposed transfer deal than being held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office has said.

Australia ''would fall well short'' of the human rights criteria demanded of Malaysia under the deal signed in July, the UNHCR's regional representative, Richard Towle, has told a parliamentary inquiry.
From Between a rock and a hard place:
Asylum seekers I spoke to in Kuala Lumpur this year were well organised in communities and had control over their family life and the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet, if not over their destiny.

Asylum seekers I met in Perth airport lounges, discharged from psychiatric units for mental illness and on their way back to the island jail, were clearly medicated, beaten by their circumstances and bewildered.
The article then goes on to document the problems asylum seekers in Malaysia have with not being allowed to work, including being sent to gaol for 12 months for working illegally.
This is the UNHCR's point: If asylum seekers have the legal right to work in Malaysia, it fixes the biggest problem in this country immediately. The Malaysian government had said the Australian ''transferees'' can legally work, and it was also preparing to extend work rights to all refugees.

Australia, however, has given no sign it is prepared to stop the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. The mental health toll in its detention centres is well documented.

Refugee lawyers put the counter-argument: After the prolonged detention, those who have had refugee claims accepted in Australia step into the sunlight - they are assisted with some of the world's best refugee resettlement services.

In Malaysia, they wait years and years for another country to accept them for resettlement. And it may never happen.
Not easy this refugee stuff.

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