Friday, 23 February 2007

Non-refoulement is Not a Difficult Concept

It really sucks that our government takes such a dim view of the plight of refugees. Yes we provided asylum to the vietnamese boat people [and my ancestors thank the benevolent government(of the day, then) for this] and yes we provided safe harbour and asylum to the victims of the balkan conflict back in the early 1990s. But I don't think that doing the above means that no more need be done to protect new refugees turning up on our shores.

I am so deeply ashamed that the government of the day whom I helped vote into power thinks that since we helped out refugees twice before, we have paid our debt to society, satisfied all international obligations and no longer need to help any other refugees seeking protection on our beautiful land. So. Deeply. Ashamed.

A refugee is a person who cannot stay at home because of persecution. This is different from the flight of economic migrants, who leave their countries voluntarily in search of a better life. Some economic migrants could be illegal migrants if they entered the country irregularly. Some refugees(in our country at least) could be illegal if they had to flee without their documents. Some economic migrants could also be refugees. Some refugees could also be economic migrants. All refugees are migrants as to claim refugee protection, one has to be outside the borders of one's country of origin.

If we are to prosecute migrants for illegal entry, refugees however should be protected from the same as they are forced migrants. Refugees don't have a choice in the matter and they are forced to flee to protect their lives and those of their loved ones. The principle of non-refoulement says that a refugee cannot go home. If he could he would but he can't. A refugee flees because of persecution arising from his race, religion, nationality, political opinion or because of membership of a particular social group. A refugee could also be fleeing generalised violence and in a situation of risk where the state is unable to offer protection.

How can we then prosecute refugees for illegal entry, submit them to canings of the rotan and onerous monetary fines, all because they did not think to apply for their passport or visa before they had to flee? And even if they did, they might not have been able to secure those papers by virtue of the fact that they are facing persecution in their country of origin.

Isn't it patently obvious therefore that at the very least, refugees should not be made subject to the requirements of entry under national immigration regulations? The basic international refugee law principle is that a refugee cannot return to his country of origin because of persecution.

To force a refugee to return home, to punish said hapless refugee for illegal entry and then to deport him or her back to the country of origin is a serious breach of this legal principle and makes our nation's entry into the Human Rights Council a farcical joke. It is even more farcical that this beloved country is a member of the OIC when everyone, even the regular man on the street and the man in Bas Mini 73, can take judicial notice of the fact that the rights of muslim refugees in this country are not protected nor are they protected from refoulement.

Any journalist/human rights lawyer worth his salt (will anyone take up the refugee cause here in this lovely nation?) who does a search of lower court records of immigration cases and immigration records of deported cases will certainly find incontrovertible proof to bear this fact out.

Can we say that since we protected some refugees in the 70s and in the 90s, we no longer have to protect any more refugees who have the ill-luck to wash up on our shores? What happens if one day we all are forced to seek refugee in another nation and are treated as badly as we treat our refugees? What then? What will the karmic balancing of our sins entail us then?

To the powers that be, may I offer you some homework so that the milk of human kindness in you may be uncurdled. Please do take some time off from your busy schedules and watch the following movies and documentaries:-
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Sometimes in April (2005)
God Grew Tired of Us (2006)
Lost Boys of Sudan (2004)
Refugee Road (1981)


Once you have watched the above, then tell us if you still believe that all refugees should go home to their countries of origin. Or come to our country with their passports, visas, money and property intact to add to our tourist dollar instead of being a drain on our resources.

And then we will know how to vote at the next elections.

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