Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Iraqi refugees detained in Malaysia await deportation

21/06/2011 13:35 Sulaimaniyah, June 21 (AKnews) - About 500 Iraqi refugees - mostly Kurds - currently detained in one of Malaysia's refugee camps, are expected to be forcibly deported soon, says a refugee activist group.

The refugees have been waiting in the Malaysian camp to be resettled in Australia, but have been refused refugee status unless they register with the UNCHR and claim asylum legally, according to the International Federation of Iraqi Refugees (IFIR).iraqi refugees in australia

"According to our reports, Australia has signed a protocol with Malaysia to forcibly deport the 500 refugees by boat to Baghdad," said IFIR secretary Amanj Abdullah.

Malaysia is currently home to 93,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, among them are 710 Iraqis.

"Australia has announced it will not take refugees who come from a country where there is no political conflict," Abdullah told AKnews. If implemented, Malaysia joins UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland who have been sending back mainly Kurdish refugees in recent years.  The IFIR has warned that some 70 Kurds from the UK are expected to be deported today.

Thousands of Iraqis fled the sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007 before the warring parties finally laid down arms to engage in the political process in 2008. The beginning of the Kurdish migration, however, goes a little further back to the 1990s when the former Iraqi regime waged a murderous campaign against the Kurds . Now, with a relative restoration of order, Iraq has been declared a non conflict zone by former asylum-granting countries.

Refugee Swap Deal

Australia announced in early May that it had reached an agreement with the Malaysian government whereby Australia would send some 800 refugees currently held in its detention centers, to Malaysian camps for their applications to be processed. In return, Australia would take 4,000 refugees registered by the UNHCR.

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the deal as a solution to the people-smuggling trade, by rendering "nugatory what people smugglers try to sell".

Kurdish migration to Australia has exploded in recent years. According to STATT Consulting, a Hong Kong-based global NGO working on transnational issues, over 1,000 Kurdish refugees have arrived in Australia by boat since 2009.

The explosion in migration came alongside government change in migration policies. In 2007-2008, when controls were much tighter, only 4 Kurdish refugees made it to Australia. In 2009, however, 139 Kurds arrived on Australian territories as the government's policy on illegal immigrants softened. The figure reached its peak in 2010 when over 800 Kurdish immigrants arrived in Australia by boat.

During the first three months of 2011, over 340 Kurds illegally arrived in the country forcing the Gillard administration to tighten procedures on illegal immigration and put an end to the flow of immigrants.

Since the government of Australia announced the new refugee swap deal with Malaysia in May, the number of illegal Kurdish immigrants reaching the country dropped to almost zero.

The UNHCR, which had harshly criticized the deal when it was announced by the Australian government, has now backed off, saying the Australian government has made significant changes after the Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Bown, said earlier this month that decisions on unaccompanied minors would be made on a case by case basis.

"These are extremely important protection principles for the UNHCR, which we continue to discuss with both governments," UNHCR said in a statement on Sunday.

By Raber Y. Aziz, contribution by Dilshad Saifaddin