Kadeer: Malaysia not to be trusted with asylum seekers
Malaysia is “better for refugees” screams the front page lead story of The Age newspaper.
“Julia Gillard has received a rare boost…” it reads.
The paper quotes the United Nations refugee agency as saying: “asylum seekers would get better protection in Malaysia under her proposal than if held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia.”
It may seem like an obvious statement to people who would be of the opinion that being free to live in the community – any community – might be better than being held in indefinite detention.
That’s in spite of the repeated warnings about Malaysia’s treatment of refugees that have been made since the Federal Government announced its intention to make an asylum-seeker swap deal with that country.
But according to one renowned political refugee and activist, Malaysia is not to be trusted when it comes to asylum seekers, whether in the community or not.
The head of the World Uighur Congress, Rebiya Kadeer, travels the world trying to fight what she calls the oppression by Chinese authorities of her people, who number about 20 million, and who live in China’s north-western-most province.
She’s regarded in China as a dangerous separatist.
Ms Kadeer, who was herself a political prisoner and now lives in exile in the United States, caused huge controversy in Australia when she visited in 2009.
There were official protests made after Australia granted her a visa to visit.
A Chinese vice-foreign minister cancelled a visit here in protest.
But she slipped quietly back into the country last week to speak at an Amnesty International human rights conference in Brisbane.
Once again, Australia issued her a visa to visit, but this time, it seems China either didn’t know, or didn’t find her trip worthy of protest.
Whatever the case, Ms Kadeer was keen to point out to Australians that Malaysia’s record with asylum seekers who have fled the Uighur homelands (known to them as East Turkistan) is far from humane.
Indeed, a group of Uighurs was recently deported back to China.
“Of course recently the Malaysian government has deported at least 11 innocent Uighurs, in violation of international law, to China,” Rebiya Kadeer told me through an interpreter, “so I’m really worried with the Malaysian government’s treatment of asylum seekers.”
“From my point of view, if the Australian Government genuinely trusts the Malaysian government then maybe it is a good idea to have the deal.”
“Otherwise, then it is very risky.”
Ms Kadeer said that nobody knows what happened to the asylum seekers once they arrived home.
“Once the Uighurs were deported back to China, they all disappeared for good and in spite of international pressure on Malaysia, the Malaysian government still deported the Uighurs back to China.
“So that is really worrying from our point of view because of China’s ongoing heavy-handed repression of the Uighurs, and the Uighurs have no choice but to flee the country and seek asylum in other countries.
“Australia is also one of the countries [which accepts Uighur refugees] and we are grateful for Australia helping the Uighur refugees, but in light of Malaysia’s deportation, my advice is that Australia should really seriously think about whether Malaysia can be trusted…Australia should really seriously think about this,” Rebiya Kadeer said.
I asked her if she had any thoughts on what might have happened to the 11 returnees.
“I believe once the Uighurs were deported back to China, usually they were imprisoned and forced to confess alleged crimes they have never committed and then through sham trials they would be sentenced – some to life, some in the worst cases even to death.”
But Malaysia is a largely Muslim country, and Uighurs, too, are predominantly Islamic.
Did it strike her as unusual that Malaysia wouldn’t, instead, want to offer the asylum seekers some sort of protection on religious grounds?
“It’s not only Malaysia actually, it’s most of the Middle Eastern countries – Muslim countries – they all are allies of China they support the Chinese government and they have also deported a huge number of Uighurs back to China,” she said, in answer to my question.
“For example Pakistan has deported many Uighurs back to China where these Uighurs were executed by the Chinese authorities.
“So in these countries where there is no respect for human rights or democracy, their allies are all the same.”
“That’s the sad reality today,” she said.
“So where there is respect for democracy and human rights, the treatment of Uighurs is different, but where there are none, like those Muslim countries, it’s all just deportations.”