Our views on offshore processing

RISE is extremely concerned about the continued raising of an asylum seeker deal between regional and Australian governments, recently rehashed by Independent MP, Rob Oakeshott.

Minister for Immigration and Labor MP, Chris Bowen has recently announced his support for Oakshott’s dangerous proposal to reinstate offshore processing. This decision to punish asylum seekers and refugees coming to Australia is neither an ethical solution to the problem nor a deterrent for those of us arriving by boat.

If the majority of the Senate go ahead with the decision to support Oakeshott’s bill, it will be further evidence of Australia’s shocking discrimination against people fleeing from war and persecution. Offshore processing to countries like Malaysia, Indonesia or Nauru will only serve to make Australia’s notorious immigration detention system even less transparent due to geographic and bureaucratic isolation from Australia itself, but it will also put refugees and asylum seekers in great danger by trapping them in countries that are not signatories to the UN Refugee Convention.

In Malaysia, for example, it is very clear that there are many existing problems in the country’s existing refugee camps that the UNHCR has failed to address or solve. It is also well known that Malaysia has not upheld the basic human rights of refugees in the past and is under no legal obligation to do so. Why then does the UNHCR condone Australia sending asylum seekers and refugees there?

Further, as of March 2008, there were 39,000 individuals registered with UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) in Malaysian refugee camps. 33,000 are from Myanmar and there are refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, including: 1,300 Sri Lankans and 600 Iraqis. Camps are crowded and lack adequate sanitation. Many refugees have poor health because of this. Refugees and asylum seekers there also have no work rights; their children have no study rights. They are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation and poverty. Malaysia and Indonesia are both known to imprison asylum seekers and refugees in jails. This means that families, including children, whose only “crime” has been to flee their countries of origin are being incarcerated.

The rhetoric that Australian politicians espouse on asylum seeker issues is callous: hard-line solutions, temporary protection visas, Pacific and other offshore solutions, indefinite detention, forceful deportation, and now, a possible continuous Malaysian refugee and asylum seeker trade. The past has shown us that treating asylum seekers and refugees harshly does not work. It does not stop them coming, but it does tarnish Australia’s reputation and leads to the decline of mental health of already vulnerable people. The deal should stop immediately and Rob Oakeshott needs to open his eyes before he further disfranchise our community.