RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees, condemns the leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP), Bill Shorten, for his support of the Abbott government’s policy of pushing back refugee boats. Bill Shorten has made disingenuous claims that such a policy is required to “stop deaths at sea”.
If Mr. Shorten was genuinely concerned about deaths at sea, why was he silent when hundreds of Rohingya refugees lost their lives in the Asia Pacific region during the last few months? They were left floating in the middle of the ocean in leaky boats for several weeks while countries, including Australia and Malaysia, pushed them back into the sea.
Meanwhile, Bill Shorten and his advisors continue to peddle the dodgy Malaysian “refugee resettlement” deal pushed by the Gillard government back in 2011 as a “safe” option. This deal involved the deportation of refugees who came to Australia by boat to Malaysia, a country that has not signed the UN torture convention let alone the UN refugee convention. Stateless Rohingya refugees could not be included in the resettlement quota that was part of this deal due to a bureaucratic technicality that places them in a separate UNHCR category.
It is in Malaysia that more than 300 bodies of suspected Rohingya human trafficking victims were discovered in mass graves this year. ALP policy makers also ignore the fact that, in addition to hosting over 100,000 refugees, Malaysia also has about 90,000 stateless people in the island of Borneo; their struggle for Malaysian citizenship rights remains unresolved.
As Australian politicians trumpet their white supremacist “Stop the Boats” mantra cloaked in faux compassion for refugee deaths, they conveniently ignore Australia’s hand in the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the largest sources of forcibly displaced people in the world. This rhetoric from our politicians shroud refugee deaths on land and sea due to increasing militarisation of borders, such as Australia’s own “Operation Sovereign borders”, while weakening already inadequate humanitarian safeguards.
Australian politicians have also misappropriated the narratives of the Vietnamese refugee community by claiming that Australia’s offshore resettlement policy for Vietnamese refugees was a success because it stopped deaths at sea. However, if we look at the statistics of those fleeing Vietnam in the 1970s, many more perished fleeing over land than by boat. Vietnamese Australian author Cat Thao Nguyen who launched her memoir, “We Are Here”, with RISE this month, has stated that “about 50% of the Vietnamese refugees who fled by boat in the 1970s died, while researchers estimated that only 10% of those who fled by land survived”.