I have just returned to Bangkok from Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia, where I spent 3 days trying to understand what the main challenges are for the refugees in that country, and also what various organisations and the Government of Malaysia do to help them out. As expected, what I saw and experienced there is not a happy story. Refugees’ most basic rights in Malaysia are violated. Tens of thousands of people, who have fled to that country in search of safety are faced with slavery work, with lack of access to basic services such as health care or housing. People live on the edge, many engage in prostitution, and in slavery work, just so that they could survive yet another day. What is striking is that even if they are humiliated so badly they still feel that they are ‘lucky’. Just think about it, how bad you must have felt ‘home’, if you still think, after being raped, or after having worked for hours in the building site without being paid a penny, you still think that you are lucky. Where has the world gone to? How is it possible that in a 21st Century, a wealthy country, such as Malaysia allows for ‘de facto’ slavery within its borders? I search for the answers, and I can’t find any explanation, really! What is even more disturbing is that many international institutions, such as UNHCR, UN in general and diplomatic missions of countries, which supposedly ‘adhere to various international human rights treaties and conventions’ do not have enough guts to make a brave and open statement against these violations. It is quite amazing to see that our governments are able to turn their blind eyes on such a gross abuse, so that the trade and ‘good relations’ can continue. I know that this is how the world seems to be functioning, but I disagree with it, disagree with it with my full heart and with all passion that I can muster… I will always do that, even if no one else is ready to listen.
In the meanwhile, we received some sad news from Australia. Tahir’s offshore humanitarian visa (in another words application for an asylum) was rejected by the authorities. They told him that they actually thought that his claim had grounds, and recognised that it is dangerous for him to return to Pakistan and indeed to remain in Thailand, but nevertheless they would not offer him resettlement, because his links with Australia are not ‘strong enough’. Again, I am just wondering whether how is it that the Australian Government expects the most vulnerable people to have ‘links to Australia’? Where is the ‘humanitarian’ side of this visa? Do you really expect that a person, being persecuted in his/her country, usually without any means, education, etc. miraculously have ‘links’ to Australia? I feel like using some very inappropriate words… so it is better that I stop here and abstain.
Things with Poland are not better. We now believe that Poland will even not look at Tahir’s asylum application, despite amazing efforts of Sister Malgorzata. Poland is extremely closed to the idea of supporting refugees and victims of wars, so perhaps it is hardly surprising, nevertheless very, very disappointing. In any case, the visit of the Pope Francis has brought some attention to the issue of the refugees in the country. Sister Malgorzata has even managed to beautifully advocate for Tahir’s case in the main news channel in the primetime (please the see link of the interview here, though only available in Polish).
Now that Australia and Poland reject helping Tahir, we are running out of options. We will still be appealing in both countries, but let’s face it, the hopes there are fading. Now, the only real option is Canada. We will be filling our application there, as soon as UNHCR office here in Bangkok finally confirms Tahir’s refugee status (still may take a lot of time).
So many disappointing news here, I am afraid. We are not giving up though. We must find the way in one or another way. We may still not know what we can do to help Tahir, but we will never give up!