News / Asia

Australia Goes Online to Dissuade Asylum Seekers

Phil Mercer

Australian immigration officials say they have a new plan to deter asylum seekers from making the trip to Australia by boat.  The immigration department says it will film the first group of asylum seekers processed under the new refugee swap deal with Malaysia and post the video on YouTube.

How it works

The Australian navy intercepted 54 detainees, early Sunday. They are the first boat people to be taken into custody since Canberra agreed to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia.

In exchange, Kuala Lumpur will transfer to Australia 4,000 refugees whose claims for asylum have been approved.  The authorities in Canberra say the agreement will deter asylum seekers from making the perilous journey by boat into Australia’s northern waters and will disrupt the activities of people smugglers.

The 54 recent arrivals are being taken to an offshore detention center on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. They will be filmed as they are flown from the island to Malaysia, a move expected to take place in the next week.  The video of their journey will be Yes.posted on YouTube.

Discouragement

Immigration officials hope Australian diaspora communities including Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan and Sri Lankans will watch the film and discourage family and friends who are considering making the journey.

An immigration department spokesman says the Internet film will be a “very potent message” that shows the “futility” of trying to reach Australia by sea, only to be put on a plane to Malaysia.



For security reasons the faces of the asylum seekers will be pixilated.  The government says 10 clips posted online will be available in up to eight languages: English, Tamil, Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Sinhalese and Bahasa.

Tough stance

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says those sent to Malaysia may have to be forcibly deported.

“Obeying instructions here is not a question of volunteering.  We are determined to get this done," Gillard said. "The Australian Federal Police can speak on operational matters, but we will do what is necessary to ensure that people who should be taken to Malaysia under the agreement are taken.  Well, it means taking appropriate steps to get people to board the plane and to disembark the plane the other end.”

Criticism

Human rights groups have criticized the deal with Malaysia, insisting that Australia may be in breach of its international obligations.  There are also concern  about possible mistreatment of asylum seekers in Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees and imposes harsh punishments for illegal entry, including caning.

Border protection is a high priority with Australian voters, although United Nations figures show their country receives less than a half-percent of the world's asylum seekers.

Australia grants about 13,000 humanitarian visas each year.  Among the recipients are refugees from Burma, Iraq and Bhutan.

A quarter of the Australian population was born overseas.   The country attracts large numbers of migrants from neighboring New Zealand and the United Kingdom, Australia’s former colonial master.  In recent years migration from Asia has increased significantly.

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