I’ve written recently about the Australian government recent efforts to enlist further support from countries to our north in stifling the activities of people smugglers.

Reports continue to appear of dreadful conditions and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in those same countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand.

Another recent example, reported in the Bangkok-based newspaper, The Nation, detailed here on The Irrawaddy website, is the death of two young Burmese Rohingya ‘migrants’, aged 15 and 19 in a Thai detention camp.  There were among 55 Rohingyas held in the camp.  In a further example of the complete absence of interest in genuinely assisting potential refugees, the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) is being denied access to the camp.

“We have asked the Thai government many times for access there. We told the Thai government that we are ready to help them [the detained migrants]. We want to know what their protection needs are. But we are not getting access.”

The Bangkok Post later reported that the Rohingya asylum seekers were subsequently shifted to a detention centre in Bangkok.

The article makes it pretty clear that the Thai authorities see this solely as an issue of ‘illegal migration’, not an issue of asylum seekers or human rights.  Chalida Thacharoensak, of People’s Empowerment, a human rights group, greets Rohingya immigrants during her visit to a detention centre at the Immigration Bureau in Bangkok The photo and reports accompanying the article gives some indication that the facilities the asylum seekers are being kept in is far from satisfactory.

The Australian government has recently started resettling some Burmese Rohingya refugees. The persecution and danger they are subjected to is very well documented, and many of those recently being resettled in Australia have been in refugee camps in Bangladesh for fifteen years or more.

The factors the Australian government has to balance in its efforts to work on this issue with neighbouring countries are difficult and complex.

But the simple fact remains that refugees only use people smugglers when there are no other viable options to reach safety and security from persecution. Cracking down on smugglers while doing nothing to create viable pathways for refugees will just make things more difficult for refugees, including a probable increase in suffering, dangers and cost.

ADDENDUM: According to this report I just found – also from the Irrawaddy:

Eighty Burmese migrants have been released from an immigration detention center near Kuala Lumpur International Airport with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee office (UNHCR).

Yante Ismail, a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur, confirmed that the refugees and asylum-seekers were released from the detention facility on Tuesday.

Recently, 28 detainees escaped from the detention center. Six have been rearrested by authorities. The detention center has inadequate food and water, according to sources who asked not to be identified.

There are nearly 7,000 foreigners in immigration detention centers in Malaysia. Burmese detainees number around 2,800, according to the Bangkok Post, an English-language newspaper.

(the vast majority of the Burmese (some of who would have come from living for years in camps in Bangaldesh) would be asylum seekers)

In this photo taken on July 23, children detainees look out through their shelter at the Lenggeng detention center, south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo:AP)
In this photo taken on July 23, children detainees look out through their shelter at the Lenggeng detention center, south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo:AP)