AS the legal battle over the Malaysia Solution for asylum-seekers drags on, opposition to the deal with Australia is stepping up inside Malaysia too.
It is exposing the country to increasing fire over its human rights regime, intensifying international scrutiny as tensions grow in the run-up to an election.
Fears are also starting to be aroused inside Malaysia that the arrangement will create a security hazard.
Teresa Kok, a leading MP for the opposition Democratic Action Party, whose polling support is growing rapidly, especially within Malaysia’s Chinese community, has urged the government to call off the asylum-seeker swap deal.
She said Home minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s “blind acceptance of the 800 boatpeople who are effectively Australia’s rejects, puts Malaysia’s national security at risk.
“These 800 who are newly arrived in Australia would not have been screened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, thus they are likely not genuine refugees at all,” she said.
Ms Kok, who has been MP for Seputeh in Kuala Lumpur for 12 years, and who retained her seat in 2008 with the biggest majority in any constituency, of 36,492, said the asylum-seekers’ backgrounds would be “unclear and dubious”.
And there was a possibility, she said, that the asylum-seekers Canberra hoped to send to Malaysia had criminal backgrounds, underlined by their entering Australia through illegal means.
“Hishammuddin hasn’t got a clue who he is welcoming to our shores,” she said. “He is inviting problems into our home.”
Ms Kok said the 4000 refugees who were due to go to Australia under the deal should be allowed to remain in Malaysia. They were “genuine refugees” who had been screened by the UNHCR, she added.
“Most of them are Burmese refugees who have been in Malaysia for one or two decades,” she said. “Many have had their children born in Malaysia, which makes Malaysia the only country their children have ever known. Cancel the agreement and let the 4000 refugees live and work in Malaysia.”
Nurul Izzah Anwar, an MP for the biggest opposition party, the People’s Justice Party, led by her father, Anwar Ibrahim, told The Australian that “the Malaysian government – and to a certain extent the Australian government – were not careful enough in studying the implications” of the swap deal.
For Malaysia, she said, “does not even ratify the UN’s convention on the rights of refugees; and holds a horrendous record with regards to the treatment of refugees and illegal immigrants on its shores”.
“The merits of any government-to-government agreement must be predicated on a set of principles – the defence of human rights and proper functioning of the rule of law.”
Ms Anwar praised the “countless activists and defenders of the rights of refugees and illegal immigrants – from both Malaysia and Australia – who had exposed the underlying flaws in this arrangement”.
Hishammuddin has said the court action holding up the transfer of asylum-seekers was just “a hiccup”. He told The Star newspaper in Kuala Lumpur: “The agreement remains the best way to tackle the menace of people-traffickers in a way that protects the interests of Australia, Malaysia and, above all, the immigrants involved.
“We hope to see it up and running as soon as possible.”