Malaysia mistreats refugees

8/7/09;(4 Items)

Tthe headline of your article on Malaysia’s attitude to asylum-seekers (“Malaysia not soft on boatpeople”, 2/7) is a contender for biggest understatement of the year. The atrocious mistreatment of asylum-seekers and refugees in Malaysia is long-standing and well-documented.  A US Senate committee found that Malaysian officials transported asylum-seekers, including some who were registered with UNHCR, from detention centres to the Thai border for deportation, where they were at risk of being handed to traffickers (not smugglers) if they could not pay a ransom. The report stated that “those unable to pay are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests ranging from fishing boats to brothels”.  Human Rights Watch has found that refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia are subject to arrest, detention, and deportation — the most fundamental breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Malaysia does not support the convention, but Australia does and should not be supporting or encouraging other governments in allowing such breaches; Andrew Bartlett Research fellow in migration law; Australian National University, Canberra;

http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/letters/index.php/ theaustralian/comments/malaysia_mistreats_refugees/; Malaysia not soft on boatpeople; http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25720918-5013404,00.html

A test for more humane strategy
Paul Kelly; 8/7/09
Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith now seek to validate the deepest conventional wisdom about unauthorised boat arrivals, that the essence of the solution lies in regional agreements with our Southeast Asian neighbours. With more than 800 boat arrivals in the latest phase and intelligence that an upsurge in the thousands is coming, the Rudd government faces an exacting test of the balance it has drawn. Its policy is best labelled as strong border protection leavened with humanity. Is such a compromise viable? How tenable is it for Rudd and Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, to project competing messages of Australia as a tough border protection nation that meets asylum-seekers with an accommodating humanitarianism?
See: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25748662-7583,00.html

Asylum bid goes regional as globetrotting PM seeks help to stem refugee flow
Paul Maley & Mark Dodd; 7/7/09
Australia is leading a push aimed at helping countries in Southeast Asia toughen their people-smuggling laws, as authorities prepare for a fresh wave of asylum-seekers. As Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith held talks last night with the Malaysian Prime Minister in an effort to improve co-operation on people-smuggling, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said toughening penalties in Southeast Asia was central to addressing the problem. Stopping over in Malaysia on his way to international talks on climate change and the global financial crisis in Europe, the Prime Minister met with his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak. It was the first official meeting between the two leaders. Agreement on the need for better co-operation between Australia and its Southeast Asian neighbours in tackling a surge in regional people-smuggling was the main focus of talks.
See: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25743747-2702,00.html

Big White Lie – Chinese Australians in White Australia – John Fitzgerald; UNSW Press: 2007; pp 40-42
Comparing non-white settlements with white.
Judgments about Chinese culture and values made in white-settler societies are not borne out by evidence from other sites of Chinese settlement in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
The Australian Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), to cite an example close to home, canvassed the merits of large-scale labour contracting of Chinese workers for its sugar plantations in Fiji in the 1880s. On investigation, the governor of the islands and the CSR board formed the view that Chinese contractors ‘preferred to be their own masters’ and were ‘expensive’.
The proposal to import workers from China was abandoned on the understanding that they were unlikely to provide the cheap and docile labour force that CSR required for its sugar plantations.
Similar judgments on the character of Chinese labourers, farmers and merchants were commonplace among colonial officials governing non-white settlements in Southeast Asia.
To compare white settlements with other white settlements helps to highlight similarities and differences among white-settler societies, but it tells us little about Chinese immigrants themselves.
Observable differences between one white-settler society and another, such as the prevalence of collective or individualist ethics and the relative force of the law in each society, pale alongside the common assumptions that confronted Chinese migrants in white settlements generally.
Comparing white with non-white settlements invites reconsideration of the most tenacious of these common assumptions, specifically, that Chinese intended to cut and run, that they worked as slaves and that their values threatened the fragile national consensus on Australian values that made Australia Australia rather than merely white.
Adam McKeown mounts a strong case that nation-based comparisons of any kind can be misleading if they fail to make room for the transnational strategies of extended families seeking to maximise their opportunities abroad.
Families in China were not restricted to choosing one site of settlement over another, white or non-white. They took advantage of opportunities wherever they arose and they put up with restrictions when they were compelled to do so.
In the Australian case, a young man emigrating to Victoria, say, might have a brother in Queensland or New Zealand, uncles and nieces in the Philippines, perhaps an aunt and a family of young cousins in Hawaii, and more distant relatives living in California or Peru. Movement among these sites was mediated by extended family networks and driven by the opportunities that beckoned from one place to another.
On McKeown’s calculations, observable fluctuations in the rates of movement among sites abroad correlated more directly with economic opportunities at each site than with immigration restrictions.

For Chinese families, coping with restrictions was an art form.
That said, extending the range of comparisons from the Australian colonies to other sites of settlement helps to cast into high relief some of the basic assumptions underlying Australian’ historical writing about the conduct and expectations of Chinese immigrant labourers.
The remainder of this chapter is devoted to different orders of comparison across various sites of settlement, one bearing on the experience of Chinese labourers in the Dutch East Indies, the other on family strategies for managing overseas migration.
Chinese Labour in the East Indies
Nineteenth-century Chinese immigration was a world phenomenon, not just an Australian one.
Australian authorities often cited precedents from California and the colonial territories of Southeast Asia when they framed their arguments for restricting Chinese immigration.” Chinese Australians consulted similar sources in their defence. The Chinese press in Australia was constantly on the alert for signs of anti-Chinese violence and news of restrictive legislation abroad.
Legislative restrictions on Chinese entry into the United States and Canada attracted commentary in the Chinese-Australian press over the late 1890s and early 1900s just as they did in the English-language press of the day.
Similar interest was shown in the Chinese-Australian press about news from colonial Southeast Asia, including evidence of increasing regulation of Chinese entry into the Philippines and Singapore, and of Chinese actions in defiance of these restrictions.
Among the items of news about Chinese immigrants in Southeast Asia that circulated in colonial Australia were accounts of Chinese anarchy and brutality in British Sarawak and the adjacent Dutch territory of West Kalimantan, both on the island of Borneo.
These presented a marked contrast to accounts of meek, docile, servile and hierarchical Chinamen of colonial Australian legend.
Nonetheless, an elected representative on the NSW Legislative Assembly supported the passage of a restrictive immigration bill in 1858 by referring to recent disturbances on Borneo. Unless restrained, he argued, Chinese in Australia would take the law into their own hands as they had done in Sarawak, where Chinese miners ‘massacred all before them’.
In fact, Chinese miners put up very little resistance to white violence on the Australian goldfields. The relative docility of Chinese in Australia was a mark of the respect they held for British rule of law.
Where no law prevailed, as in West Kalimantan, Chinese miners legislated for themselves and established remarkably egalitarian and democratic territorial jurisdictions.