Putrajaya raps Aussie MPs for ‘negative portrayal’ in refugee-swap deal
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 13 ― Wisma Putra has condemned Australian lawmakers for persistently muddying Malaysia’s reputation in their debate over a controversial refugee-swap deal mooted by the Gillard government, The Age reported today.
In a strongly-worded letter, Malaysia’s foreign ministry through its High Commissioner to Australia, Datuk Salman Ahmad, slammed parliamentarians there for painting a negative image of the country’s human rights record, The Australian daily reported.
“We see it as unfair that this democratic debate has been undertaken at the expense of Malaysia’s good reputation and its solid values,” Salman was reported as saying in his letter.
“I am very concerned with the sustained negative portrayal of my country in the Parliament, which has extended to the media and the general public.
“While it is truly understandable that all sides of the Parliament want to employ the most effective policy for the country to protect its borders against illegal arrivals, its action in bringing down and tarnishing the good name of another country is uncalled for,” the paper quoted him saying further.
He was reported saying Malaysia has a long history of working with the United Nations’ refugee agency to help resettle displaced people.
He pointed to Malaysia’s record in handling Vietnam’s boat people as “a clear testimony of our sincere commitments to solving the refugee problem”.
“Today, there are more than 99,000 people of concern, which the UNHRC categorises refugees and asylum seekers, in Malaysia. In addition, Malaysia has to deal with about 1,303,126 illegal foreign workers,” he was quoted as saying.
Australia’s opposition coalition has strongly criticised the refugee-swap deal known there as the “Malaysia Solution”, alleging the rights of asylum seekers would not be protected because Malaysia has not signed the UN refugee convention.
Salman was reported saying Malaysia’s refusal to ink refugee convention should not be seen as a barrier preventing the two countries from working together.
“Both our countries have a broad-ranging relationship which stretches over five decades as partners in trade, investment, education, defence, agriculture, and have strong people-to-people links.
“However, we feel that the political rhetoric and the negative portrayal of Malaysia will undermine the positive aspects of our relationship and diminishes the good work we have achieved thus far in our collective efforts to combat this undignified and illegitimate industry,” he was quoted futher.
Malaysia has been put repeatedly on the defensive since last year after agreeing to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s arrangement to combat human trafficking which has flooded the southern Pacific nation with illegal immigrants.
Last October, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak urged Australians to keep politics out of attempts to resolve the human smuggling problem in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Najib noted that some Australian opposition lawmakers have been painting Malaysia as a “bad place” and claimed the country has a poor human rights record, especially in its treatment of refugees.
“Malaysia is not some repressive, backward nation that persecutes refugees and asylum seekers,” he wrote in the article that coincided with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth.
“The simple fact is that Malaysia is not the country that boatpeople heading for Australia want to settle in — and more often than not that is down to economics rather than fears of how they might be treated,” he added.
Najib said Malaysia today is home to almost 178,000 refugees, more than seven times as many as found in Australia.
He stressed that the majority live freely outside detention centres and are entitled to cheap healthcare, and added that the government is currently working with the UN to allow some refugees to work in the country.
In the swap deal, Malaysia was to take in 800 asylum seekers and ship 4,000 confirmed refugees to Australia.
The deal was inked in July 2011 but an Australian High Court sunk the idea the following month.
Gillard has vowed to take the “Malaysian Solution” to Australia’s polls due next year.