John Key: Refugees 'vehemently possible'
Reading the news yesterday reminded me a little of old communist-scaring films like Invaders from Mars. Prime Minister urges that refugees are "vehemently possible". People from across the borders are going to invade, not because they are fleeing poverty and violence, but because they are vindictive and dangerous. Letting them in would reward the "bad people".
While the response from organizations like Amnesty International is that we would be ignoring the legal obligations we have, it is worth reminding ourselves that this is exactly what Key has set out to do in his vision for a trans-Tasman alliance. As I blogged a couple of weeks ago, one of the major shifts going on in Australia is one towards outsourcing refugees to countries that are not privy to the same conventions that New Zealand is part of. In this case Malaysia, a country with a bad human rights record that has not signed the same 1951 Treaty as us.
As Opposition Spokesman Scott Morrison argued in a piece for The Australian:
I have seen the conditions in which refugee and asylum-seeker children live with their families in Malaysia. Bowen should too. I visited the makeshift schools run by refugee volunteer teachers who receive 10 days' training, crammed into small rooms in run-down buildings.
I visited the one health clinic funded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur. It services 94,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. I listened to the stories of the fear of these refugees in their homes, where raids and arrest are a way of life.
Even with a UNHCR card, refugees recounted numerous stories of being arrested and it can take between two weeks and two months to have them released.
What goes on in those prisons and detention centres is a world away from what occurs in detention in Australia or Nauru. I inspected one of the detention centres near the airport. It holds more than 100 women and children, including refugees in a spartan concrete building, behind a 3m high, three-tier coils of razor wire and a 9000-volt electric fence. In the male section, there was a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy.
The detainees are held in these buildings for 22 hours a day. The other two hours are spent in the small compound surrounding the building. There are no facilities for children, not even a sand pit.
Refugees in Malaysia live a life of complete vulnerability.
Labor is deluding itself if it thinks that a few words in an agreement, even from the UNHCR, will protect asylum-seekers in Malaysia.We need to watch this space carefully, as Key's government has already shown a willingness to violate the human rights treaties to which we are party to with his treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. The dismissing Jon Stephenson because of a text message strategy worked well in the New Zealand political environment, although the legalities are much murkier. Our ability to argue our way out of international law is based on the flimsy Jonathan Evans case, whereby MI5 were implicated in processes of torture. Given the controversies of the case and the fact that it is still possibly open to further inquiries our position of the torture not occurring in our custody seems to be a rather weak position legally.
Watch this space.