Saturday, 23 May 2015

Now, can we talk about Malaysia again? The Rohingya and Australia's Asylum-Seeker Mythologies

There's been little (err, nothing actually) from the Dalai about the actions of his inherently-peace loving co-religionists in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar/Burma/which way is the wind blowing today?

Donations can be made directly in support of the Rohingya people through MuslimAid.

The international refugee regime, we are continually told, usually without any reference to the actually ample evidence, is broken. And nations across southeast Asia have had a very salutary reminder to that effect this week.

From an Australian perspective, there was no moral leg left to stand on when Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand all refused to allow boats laden with human misery in the form of thousands of asylum-seekers to come ashore. The narrative that the majority of these people are Burmese Rohingya has been countered with claims that most are in fact Bangladeshi laborers, and clearly it will take some time to sort the truth from the murk here.

But the poisonous politics of refugee movements has been sheeted home to both parties at either end of the loggerhead in Indonesia-Australia relations - and it seems clear now that this issue has become almost set like a permanent psoriasis in the relationship as a direct result of the Abbott Government's actions. (Psoriasis, by the way is an incurable condition where the body's immune system incorrectly identifies its own skin as a pathogen, which the immune system begins attempting to attack. I LIKE THIS METAPHOR!)

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry went to extraordinary lengths this week to ensure that it eked maximum moral mileage from the process, and why not? When your opponent hands you the moral high ground by dint of throwing themselves off it, what kind of fool wouldn't revel in their new status?

For Australia, this has been monumentally unedifying. Monumentally so because of the absolute lean undisguised hypocrisy our leaders have displayed. Let's put the parallels in purest black and white.

When this country was faced with an influx of asylum-seeker arrivals by boat, we screamed about the need for a "regional solution" and both implicitly and directly berated the Indonesions for not stopping the trade from their shores. The effect of Indonesia's stopping any given asylum seeker reaching Australia is a tacit agreement that they will continue to host that person in Indonesia.

In other words we are asking Indonesia to help keep these people out of Australia to avoid a given set of negatives for Australia. In doing that, we ask Indonesia to bear every single one of those negatives themselves. So the rich, first world nation with per capita GDP among the top 3 nations on earth wants to have its problems solved by their dirt-poor developing neighbour where GDP per capita is lower by a factor of nearly 20 times taking on board 100% exactly those same set of problems.

There are several mentally/morally-deficient scripts that need to run simultaneously in the background in order to sustain this indulgent fantasising. The first of which runs "Indonesia isn't a signatory to the convention, so it's not a problem, they have no obligations". This is of course only true in law. The realpolitik is that Indonesia has actually to do something to mange the situation of thousands of non-citizen itinerants in its own borders who have no means of their own to make ends meet. The costs are real.

So, basically we are saying to Indonesia "this is unfair on us, you need to help us avoid accruing the negatives associated with boat arrivals by agreeing to accrue all those negatives in Indonesia. That's our endpoint. That's our goal here." The average Indonesian must surely be left wondering about when the discussion will turn to how we sensibly therefore stop people these coming into Indonesia also. That would be rational. That would be a true "regional solution".

The image tells it all - rejecting Malaysia directly enabled the horrors of Manus Island and Nauru

This is why I will stand on a stack of lectern bibles and defend Gillard's "Malaysia Solution" as probably the best policy prescription to address irregular refugee movements that has yet been put forward anywhere globally ever. I strongly urge the ALP to return to this policy, replete with whatever enablements might be necessary to ensure constitutionality, and that should include if absolutely necessary setting aside our signature to the 1951 Convention.

Malaysia offered a far safer haven in a far more developed economy and society than any other offshore-transfer regime yet has. It offered haven largely free from detention in a muslim-majority country. And the kicker, for those who haven't yet twigged where I'm headed is of course that it offered in return for Malaysia taking 800 Australian boat arrivals that Australia woud take up to 4,000 ... wait for it ... mostly Rohingya refugees currently in camps in Malaysia.

"Fly them here to stop the drownings" is the language the Greens and the hard left assail us with. "Well, OK, then!" is the Malaysia solution's answer.

The Malaysia Solution gave very specific and direct voice to the claim the Australian people had been effectively (though perhaps disingenuously) making for years, that "we want to be generous to refugees, but only those accredited through the formal UNHCR channels."

And it was a solution that showed proper respect for the sovereignty and concerns of our regional neighbours, it gave us a role whereby the example we set we could be said to be showing real regional leadership.

And we and every other southeast Asian nation are back on the treadmill this week mouthing glib grabs about "regional solutions" being essential. Well, seriously people, get the hell on with it, then. Everyone knows what a regional solution is basically going to look like, and Malaysia gave us a pretty good template for a series of frameworks. And we already have the Bali forum to directly address this within. That forum would of course have more teeth today if it hadn't been for our hypocrisy in undermining it through our own actions, but there's no argument starting anything new would have a hope of re-setting that.

Tony Abbott has managed this week to sink this nation's moral reputation a good foot or so deeper in global sludge. I keep wondering how much gold a Gillard could have spun this week with a positive proactive framework to stop the deaths, stop the buck-passing back to the developing world, and ultimately mitigate the human suffering.

And we really do need to keep eternally reminding ourselves that's the bottom line here. Human suffering and its alleviation. Because I am damn certain that the policy prescriptions the Greens and their ilk have put forward to date do not score ahead of the Malaysia Solution under that very real and very meaningful and deeply moral benchmark.

We want to be part of this region. As a wealthy, open, tolerant nation with plenty of everything to go around, we want to share the main burden of this region's paramount humanitarian crisis, and if you doubt the Rohingya deserve that status, just Google image search the word. Watch your screen fill with nothing but grisly post-massacre photos as "peace-loving" Buddhists cart charred corpses away, that or see people sitting massed in the dirt in refugee camps by way of a pictorial account of an entire people. And ask yourself what any of these people have done more or less than yourself, other than a mere accident of their birthright to deserve it.

Can we live with any of the outcomes that currently look like playing out? Nope, Nope, Nope.

Donations can be made directly in support of the Rohingya people through MuslimAid.

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