ஈழத்தமிழ் அகதிகள் குழுவொன்று படகு மூலம் அவுஸ்திரேலியா செல்லும் வழியில் அகப்பட்ட செய்தி சர்வதேச ஊடகங்களின் கவனத்தைப் பெற்றது. அதேநேரம் அந்த அகதிகள் அனைவரும் மலேசியாவில் இருந்து புறப்பட்டவர்கள் என்ற செய்தி அதிகம் அறியப்படவில்லை. அவுஸ்திரேலியாவின் தொலைக்காட்சி பிரிவைச் சேர்ந்தவர்கள் மலேசியா சென்று, அங்கே அகதிகள்படும் இன்னலை வெளிக் கொண்டு வந்துள்ளனர். மோசமான மனித உரிமை மீறல்களைப் புரியும் நாடுகளில் ஒன்றான மலேசியாவில், அகதிகள் சட்டவிரோத குடியேறிகள் போன்று நடத்தப்படுகின்றனர். இதற்கென பிரத்தியேகமாக அமைக்கப்பட்ட அதிரடிப்படை, UNHCR மூலம் பதிவு செய்த அகதிகளையும் பிடித்துச் சென்று சிறையில் அடைத்து வைக்கின்றது. பெரும்பாலானோர் கோலாலம்பூர் நகருக்கு வெளியே உள்ள தடுப்பு முகாமுக்குள் மாதக் கணக்காக வதை படுகின்றனர். மலேசிய அரசு அகதிகளை கடுமையாக நடத்துவது அவுஸ்திரேலிய அரசுக்கும் ஏற்புடையதாக உள்ளது. SBS தொலைக்காட்சியில் ஒளிபரப்பான இந்த ஆவணப்படம், அவுஸ்திரேலியா, மலேசியாவின் மனிதநேயமற்ற மறுபக்கத்தை தோலுரித்துக் காட்டுகின்றது.
ஆவணப்படத்துக்கான சுட்டியைஅனுப்பி வைத்த நண்பர் பிரதீப்பிற்கு எனது நன்றிகள்.
ஆவணப்படத்துக்கான சுட்டியைஅனுப்பி வைத்த நண்பர் பிரதீப்பிற்கு எனது நன்றிகள்.
Malaysia: Detention Center
Good news for Canberra, 114 Sri Lankan Tamil’s arrested in Malaysia. They were waiting for a boat to take them to Australia but their journey’s been cut short. As Dateline discovered during midnight raids and a rare visit inside a detention centre, Malaysia could never be accused of being soft on illegal immigration. So with the Australian government determined to stop asylum seekers from leaving Malaysia, should it take any responsibility for what happens to them afterwards?
DAVID MANNE, REFUGEE AND IMMIGRATION LEGAL CENTRE: It's a place which simply does not provide any viable protection to refugees, and in fact, and in many respects, provides a place of further place of danger for them.
CHRIS EVANS, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION: Well I've had no evidence of mistreatment in recent times raised with me. Certainly, we encourage our neighbours to treat people fairly.
REPORTER: Has Australia ever raised the question of human rights and the treatment of refugees here?
ABU SEMAN YUSOP, DEPUTY MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Can you cut that?
If you're an asylum seeker in Malaysia, hoping to reach Australia, your journey might start here - the ferry to Pulau Ketam, or Crab Island. From these mangrove swamps and stilt villages, it's not far to Indonesian Sumatra, just across the Malacca Strait.
VILLAGER: It's easier to get over there from here. You can go straight to the west and get to Indonesia. You go by boat. If it's a powerful boat, it only takes four hours.
There are no immigration controls here or at the port on the mainland. Most of the illegal traffic across the Strait is made up of Indonesian workers, but locals recall seeing Iraqis and people smugglers here earlier this year.
VILLAGER 2: Everything is organised. Snake heads are around. They wait here for the snakeheads to take them over. We know they're going to Australia. There are women and children as well. Through binoculars we saw women dressed in black.
In June, 42 Afghan and Pakistani migrants on board two boats were arrested by the marine police. But I hear rumours, later confirmed by the Australian Government, that the people smugglers are assisted by some officials.
VILLAGER 3: They just give the island's council some money. So they don't get arrested. It's the same everywhere else. That's enough... I'd better not tell you too much.
Australia's worried that Malaysia is a weak link in its border protection chain.
CHRIS EVANS: Well, basically a second pipeline opened up, largely as a result of the Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, and basically we have a couple of people smuggling syndicates who have found the pressure in Indonesia a bit tough and have looked for an alternative route, if you like, and they have had this operation running out of Malaysia.
There is a constant flow of asylum seekers into Malaysia and each weekday morning they can be found lining up outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. There are 49,000 refugees registered with the UNHCR here, and possibly another 45,000 who aren't on the books. 90% have fled from Myanmar, or Burma. Of the rest, most are from Afghanistan, Iraq, and, increasingly, Sri Lanka. Few have any chance of getting resettled. This young couple are Tamils who've recently arrived from Sri Lanka. Few have any chance of getting resettled. This young couple are Tamils who’ve recently arrived from Sri Lanka.
TAMIL MAN: We've applied to the UNHCR, hoping to get their protection. We hope they'll give it to us.
They have yet to discover how little protection the UNHCR can actually provide.
UNHCR EMPLOYEE: Once you get your card, there is a phone number at the back which starts with '012', OK, it's at the back of your card, right?
These refugees, from Myanmar, are here to collect the cards that prove their claims have been recognised by the UNHCR. But their new status as refugees isn't recognised under Malaysian law.
UNHCR EMPLOYEE: '012' is the detention hotline. It's open from 8:00am in the morning until 11:00pm at night, seven days a week. And this is the number you call if you have any problems with the authorities.
The Malaysian Government considers all these refugees to be illegal immigrants. So, what's in store here for the people that Australia is trying to keep out?
A few crowded rooms are a sanctuary of sorts for these Tamil families from Sri Lanka. They've been in Malaysia for 18 months, and all have terrifying stories of the threats and violence they escaped.
TAMIL REFUGEE: My sister's three kids and my brother's child. All in all, seven were taken and shot dead. They came to take them away while they were asleep. At dawn, they blindfolded them and took them away.
But the families are vulnerable here too. As illegal immigrants, they're not allowed to work and the children can't go to school. They also live in constant fear of being arrested.
TAMIL REFUGEE: The police caught me a few times. When I was caught, they'd take everything from me. They'd take my papers, handcuff me and take me away. Sometimes we give them money, whatever money we have. Otherwise we hand over our phone. If we don't give them the money, they take us away.
TAMIL REFUGEE 2: If we're caught, our children are left at home alone. That's why we go out as a family and get back home as a family. If we're in jail, the kids are alone. But if we all get caught, we're all going to suffer. That's what we fear.
So they don't risk leaving home unless it's absolutely necessary. For more than a year now, they've lived in a state of self-imposed house arrest.
REPORTER: Many refugees I've met describe being harassed by the police - forced to pay bribes, sometimes threatened with having their UNHCR cards confiscated. Have you heard these allegations? Are these allegations being investigated?
ABU SEMAN YUSOP: There's no report made. If there is a report made, of course our official will do investigation of the matter.
REPORTER: But the UNHCR says it has raised these complaints with you, so have many other human rights groups.
ABU SEMAN YUSOP: But as far as we are concerned, we have not received any complaint.
Even more than the police, this is whom refugees in Malaysia truly fear. RELA is a militia made up of 500,000 volunteers. After just two days' training, the government uses them to crack down on illegal immigrants. It's after midnight, and they're preparing to launch a surprise raid on an immigrant neighbourhood. As I film, the volunteers are told to be on their best behaviour.
RELA OFFICER: Don't get excited just because reporters are here. You want your faces in the newspaper or on TV tonight? I ask all the leaders to ensure that their troops don't act violently. Don't hit or kick. Be gentle. Treat them like your girlfriend.
RELA has been condemned in the past for human rights abuses, but was happy for me to tag along. Malaysia has more than 1 million illegal immigrants and believes tough measures are necessary.
REPORTER: Why are they such a problem, the illegal immigrants?
RELA COMMANDER: Social life. Make noisy. Drink! That's why the local people report to us.
REPORTER: But it's just the illegal immigrants that drink and make noise? Don't the legal ones...?
RELA COMMANDER: Same. Both. Both, both sides.
REPORTER: So all the immigrants are a problem, but you just target the illegal ones?
RELA COMMANDER: Yes, yes, the illegal ones only.
The volunteers spread out and start going from door to door looking for migrants. Their job is to take anyone who's not Malaysian outside to have their documents checked. At this stage, it doesn't matter if they're here legally or not. No-one likes being woken up in the middle of the night.
RELA OFFICER: Be quick, otherwise we'll break in. Take your passport with you. My passport and mobile phone? Yes.
Within an hour, several hundred people have been dragged out of bed.
RELA OFFICER: Walk properly, don't walk like that. Walk properly. Hold the shoulders.
Out on the street, their documents are taken and examined by officers from the Immigration Department. They decide who should be arrested and who gets to go back to bed. Although refugees are also illegal immigrants, the government insists they are not arrested or detained.
REPORTER: Have you found anyone here who has a UNHCR card?
MALAYSIAN IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: No. Obviously we release them.
REPORTER: You release the people with the UNHCR card?
MALAYSIAN IMMIGRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, yes.
The UNHCR says fewer refugees are being picked up these days, but that it's still common. Most I spoke to said they had a friend or relative who'd been arrested. When the prisoners are taken back to RELA headquarters, I discover that tonight is no exception.
REPORTER: Where are you from?
ABDUL RAHIM, DETAINED REFUGEE: I am from Myanmar.
Contrary to what I was told, six of the men here have been arrested despite being registered as refugees.
REPORTER: You have a UNHCR card?
ABDUL RAHIM, DETAINED REFUGEE: Yeah, sure, I here already five years.
REPORTER: And you've given them the card?
ABDUL RAHIM, DETAINED REFUGEE: Yeah, my name is Abdu Rahim, number of card 03C13837. Just so many problems coming here and I tell you these people here are not good. Tell me like animals. Why? I don't know.
Abdu Rahim has tried to call the UNHCR detention hotline, but it's the middle of the night and it's closed.
REPORTER: So what will happen if you can't get hold of them at the office?
ABDUL RAHIM: I don't know about this. Now I no good feeling.
REPORTER: Sir, tell me what happens if your men do find someone with a UNHCR card. What is the procedure?
RELA COMMANDER: So, the immigration asks us to detain them, then we have to bring them to the immigration depot. We're going to bring them to depot Lenggeng.
REPORTER: The detention centre?
RELA COMMANDER: Yes, yes.
This is where Abdul Rahim and all the others will be taken - the Lenggeng immigration depot outside Kuala Lumpur. This is the first time Malaysia has allowed a foreign journalist to film inside one of its detention centres. The men's section is meant to house up to 1,200 people, but right now, more than 1,400 are squeezed inside.
DEPOT OFFICER: As you can see now, actually they are not comfortable inside here. And then they're very stressed out when they're kept for more than a month. Actually they fight amongst them.
DETAINED IMMIGRANT 1: The food is very.... I don't know if it's contaminated, if the dogs eat the food - dogs cannot eat it.
DETAINED IMMIGRANT 2: Have you seen the tray the food, the tray we eat? You go and see, you know?
DETAINED IMMIGRANT 1: You want to see? See this? See this? See this?
Each prisoner gets some rice, and a couple of pieces of meat and vegetable. The stench is awful.
I've asked if there are any prisoners here from Sri Lanka. This is Shanmulingham. He's a Tamil and says he fled Sri Lanka last year because the army wanted to arrest him.
REPORTER: Have you gone to the UNHCR at all? Have you claimed asylum?
SHANMULINGHAM: Yes, I have. I have a card. They took my card and arrested me.
He says he's been here for six weeks and he's waiting for the UNHCR to organise his release.
And this is Prabhakaran - he's been here for a month and is also registered as a refugee. He's nervous about speaking in front of the immigration officers.
REPORTER: How have you found life in Malaysia as a refugee?
PRABHAKARAN: I can't tell you much. We live in fear over there and we're living in fear here too. We don't know our fate. I've been here a month. Nothing is certain.
REPORTER: When I visited the immigration detention centre I found several refugees there who had UNHCR cards.
ABU SEMAN YUSOP: I don't think so.
REPORTER: I did, and the UNHCR confirms this. And in fact the immigration officials also confirm this.
ABU SEMAN YUSOP: That's what the information I've been given by, ah my personnel.
REPORTER: That there are no refugees being held in the detention centres. That's what you've been told?
ABU SEMAN YUSOP: Yep.
According to the UNHCR, the situation has improved in the last few months. It now has access to the detention centres, but it says red tape means refugees, who shouldn't be arrested in the first place, still spend too long in detention.
REPORTER: Does it concern you if registered refugees in Malaysia are being arrested and locked up?
CHRIS EVANS: Well it's not for me to comment on a sovereign nation's local legal system. We detain people who come to this country unlawfully as well while we identify them and do security checks, so it's not uncommon for countries to detain people who've come in unlawfully.
Many refugees I met said it's conditions like these that drive people to try and reach Australia.
TAMIL REFUGEE 3: We wont be suffering like this. Once we survive the sea, we'll live in peace. Which is why we want to go to Australia. After a while here, we all hope to go. We can't live like this here.
TAMIL REFUGEE 2: So, instead of living in this situation, if we take the boat at least we’ll be happy there with our children. We have aspirations too.
But the Australian and Malaysian governments want to make sure this never happens. A few weeks ago, they got lucky - 114 Sri Lankans were arrested at these serviced apartments in Johor Bahru. They'd been there for a month waiting for a passage to Australia. Although three men in charge of the group escaped, this counts as a major success.
REPORTER: You would have been pleased about this news?
CHRIS EVANS: Well, we're certainly pleased that they're clamping down on unlawful movement through their country and that obviously has the benefit for us that it may deter people from getting on leaky boats, seeking to come to Australia.
The day after the arrests, I visited the apartments. This is one of the 17 rooms the migrants were squeezed into - six or seven people to a room. One of the staff showed a local journalist and I a list of almost half the group.
JOURNALIST: These are 44 names.
Next to the names, we found their UNHCR registration numbers - 44 refugees who weren't prepared to wait.
JOURNALIST: Pity them, ah?
APARTMENT EMPLOYEE: Because they pay so much to the middle man. I don't know who, ah. Chances are that if the people arrested here last month had reached Australia, they'd have been granted protection visas. Instead, they were locked up and remain as vulnerable as ever.
DAVID MANNE: Cracking down on people smuggling in and of itself is not a problem. The real question is - what is the consequence of doing that? It is one thing to intercept someone in another country and to assist another country, or cooperate with another country like Malaysia to do that, but what happens to that person? That's the question that hangs heavily. What then happens to that person?
CHRIS EVANS: I don't accept the criticism, if you like, that we've got to somehow insist on human rights standards in other countries. We encourage people to sign up to the refugee convention, we encourage them to treat people properly but, equally, I don't think we can be held responsible for every country's domestic policies.
TAMIL REFUGEE 4: At times we contemplate suicide. But we have the children. We're living for the children. We just keep going.
TAMIL REFUGEE 5: For the sake of the children we’ve come to live here. It’s not a certain thing going by boat. If any country accepts us, we'd be happy to go.