I WISH I had the chance to read the Australian Parliament’s report, the Hansard. Inside it, there must be mention of the so-called Malaysian Solution. From the debate on the subject telecast live early this month, I counted not less than 15 mentions during the one-hour session of Question For Oral Answer.
The gist of the Malaysian Solution was the agreement or arrangement whereby Australia agreed to accept 4,000 refugees registered in Malaysia in return for 800 of asylum-seekers who failed to acquire the refugee status Down Under.
The idea was to create a situation, sending a strong signal to human traffickers, that it is not worth their effort to transport humans in tiny boats across the ocean to Australia through Malaysian waters any more. The smugglers have made a lot of money from unhappy people who face political persecution at home. To the asylum-seekers, mostly from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Australia is the ‘land overflowing with milk and honey’.
Unfortunately, the Malaysia/Australia Agreement was found invalid by the Australian High Court recently; apparently, one of the parties (Malaysia) is not a signatory to the Refugees Convention.
As a result, the swap never took place. Nevertheless, the ministers of the Gillard government are vigorously defending the Malaysian Solution and would press for this swap after circumventing the legal problem through legislation already passed by the lower house. But the opposition under the leadership of Tony Abbott strenuously opposed it; they would prefer to implement what is called the Pacific Solution, a concept developed and employed by the previous Coalition government which, they say, had worked while it lasted. This was an arrangement whereby the asylum-seekers were processed offshore on the island of Nauru. After all, the basic facilities are still there and a lot of Australian taxpayers’ money was spent on those facilities.
Lives are lost
People are willing to risk their lives and leave their own countries in order to lead a new life in another country, despite the enormous difficulties in the process as encountered by the asylum-seekers to Australia.
Since the High Court of Australia struck out the Malaysian Solution in August, there have been reports of more asylum-seekers wobbling precariously on the high seas only to be saved by the Australian naval boats with their sailors working overtime and with nerves fraught with helplessness to save human lives during times of peace. Within the past 11 months alone, many precious lives were lost at sea. In the Dec 15 tragedy at Christmas Island, at least 50 people went down with their boats, many more still missing; the latest, at the beginning of this month, eight more, including those of innocent children, smouldering in their watery graves in Indonesian waters.
Outsiders are left wondering what all these countries whose citizens have become an item of trade can do to find a solution to the problem?
Obviously, the problem should be tackled at the source, namely the countries from which these asylum-seekers originate. Engage those countries then and help them curb smuggling there and then.
It is a wonder that for an issue as serious as human trafficking, no international machinery is in place to nab the kingpins and dismantle their networks. Australia has just worked out legislation to make it illegal to organise five or more people to come to Australia without a lawful right to do so – that is, without having a valid visa or being exempted, as New Zealanders are.
Shouldn ft countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia take effective steps to prevent people smuggling? Granted that there must have been diplomatic discussion of the problem between these countries but sending a signal only to the smugglers is not enough. They just laugh. Some concrete action to reduce or eliminate human trafficking is vital. That would help Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia through whose territorial waters the asylum-seekers have been passing on their way to their destination, Australia.
It would also help Australia itself in its scrambling to deal with the growing influx of illegal immigrants, plus the genuine asylum-seekers. Already, it is burdened with the problem of what to do with some 1,500 Iranians now languishing in holding centres. According to a report in the Sunday Mail of Oct 30, “the Iranian government has rejected several requests from the Australian government to facilitate the return of failed asylum-seekers”.
Could this be the kind of problem that the Malaysian Solution was meant to handle – that the Iranians Australia refuses to accept, possibly for good reason, will be shunted off to Malaysia? As responsible members of a global village, both Malaysia and Australia have attempted to find a solution to an enormous problem.
However, action taken by two countries is not enough. There must be more involvement by those countries whose citizens have opted to leave their homelands, and those through which they pass. Not long ago we witnessed the Boat People from Vietnam after the Indochinese war. Now in peace time, people still move away from their own countries for various reasons.
The human traffickers know about this lucrative business and are exploiting it to the hilt. One smuggler convicted by an Indonesian court wants to be classified as a refugee himself, and Australia will be his choice for settlement when he leaves prison!
As long as human trafficking is allowed to continue unabated because the countries affected have other priorities, there will be more lives lost in the open sea. Responsible members of the world community must not allow modern piracy and slavery to flourish. Nab the smugglers as soon as possible. Convene a convention and implement appropriate measures to the illegal smuggling of humans.