PETALING JAYA: An expert in Southeast Asian studies has criticised Malaysians claiming refugee status in Australia, saying they undermine the interest of people fleeing persecution in their home countries.
Patrick Ziegenhain, a visiting professor at Jakarta’s Atma Jaya University, said the term “refugee” should be reserved for those whose lives were under threat.
Speaking to FMT, he said Malaysians seeking employment in Australia should try to get working visas.
“It is possible to get a regular working visa if the individual has relevant skills,” he said, adding that Australia was more open than many other countries to job-seeking immigrants.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Marzuki Yahya told the Dewan Rakyat earlier that Australia’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal received 4,973 applications for protection visas from Malaysians between July last year and April this year.
He said the applicants cited various reasons, including family stress, racial and religious discrimination and domestic abuse.
Ziegenhain reckoned that Malaysians were applying for the protection visas because it was an easy and quick way of remaining in Australia legally.
However, he also said he believed not many were claiming they were oppressed in Malaysia.
“Reports by Amnesty International or any other human rights organisation do not say that certain people are threatened in Malaysia,” he said.
“Malaysia is not a perfect democracy, but we don’t hear of thousands of people being arrested or having their lives threatened. It’s different from Myanmar, for example.”
He said there was a perception, particularly among non-bumiputeras, that they could find better economic freedom in western countries.
“Malaysia is not economically growing, but it’s doing well compared to other Southeast Asian countries. But there are people who feel they are better off going to Australia or other western countries. We cannot prevent this.”
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said the large number of protection-visa applications reflected the widely held belief that advanced western countries offer higher wages and a better quality of life.
He added that it was common for people from developing countries to try, through various channels, to migrate to more developed countries, especially when there were loopholes in immigration processes.
Australia’s immigration laws make it rather open to granting protection visas. Furthermore, there is hardly any punishment on people entering the country without visas. They get all-expenses-paid flights back to their home countries.
Oh said Malaysia was still quite conservative in various ways despite recent moves to expand democratic rights.
“Freedom of speech remains curtailed and non-mainstream communities still struggle to be recognised,” he added.