Strengthening porous borders
Publisher: The Australian
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

Australia has scope to work with Sri Lanka to stop the boats

RECENT figures released by the UNHCR highlight the significance of pull factors in influencing the 2000 asylum-seekers sailing to Australia each month. In contrast with Canada and many European countries that recorded a decline in asylum applications during the first half of 2012, and Britain where the number was steady, Australia received 59 per cent more asylum applications than in the same period last year. The number of applications, more than 7800, will be even higher for the second half of 2012 because more than 11,000 boatpeople have arrived since July.

Faced with a predicament caused largely by poor policies over five years, the government has made a good call in sending Foreign Minister Bob Carr to Colombo next week to plot joint action to stop the boats from Sri Lanka. These have brought more than 3500 people to Australia in three months, including many economic refugees.

More than 600 Sri Lankans have been forcibly returned since September and it is appropriate for Senator Carr to seek assurances that those sent back will not be persecuted beyond the fact they have broken the law by leaving Sri Lanka illegally.

But the continuation of the people-smuggling trade shows that more comprehensive measures are needed. Australia's policy of returning Sri Lankans needs to be publicised widely. And Senator Carr would do well to pursue the opposition's proposal for action to assist Sri Lanka to intercept and return vessels within its 12-mile limit. It is also encouraging that people-smuggling agents in Karachi have told The Australian that asylum-seekers in Pakistan have been discouraged by offshore processing and the tragedy of mass drownings. As a result, the number of asylum-seekers flying from Pakistan to Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia has slowed to a trickle.

That trend, and the outcome of Senator Carr's trip, will help shape federal politics in the new year. After ousting Kevin Rudd in June 2010, Julia Gillard listed border protection as one of her three priorities. Since then, 392 boats carrying 24,500 people have arrived on her watch. Public dismay at her inability to stop the boats is one reason her government has again lost political momentum and is ending the year well behind the opposition in Newspoll.
 

Stateless children living a nightmare
Publisher: The Star, Malaysia
Author: SELVI SUPRAMANIAM
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

"WHICH country do you belong to?" the man sitting next to me on the plane asked. I answered without giving much thought, assuming that he meant my country of nationality.

For most people, the answer is an easy one since it is something they have known since birth. But for an estimated 12 million people globally, they simply don't have an answer.

They don't have a country to which they belong; they don't have a nationality; they don't have an identity. They are the hidden, the invisible, the forgotten, the stateless. They are the citizens of no country.

Out of this estimated 12 million, UNHCR believes half, around six million, are children who are stateless. They are found throughout the world, including in Malaysia. Many of these children do not have access to healthcare, education, welfare benefits and protection from harm. Living in a state of limbo, leading uncertain and unprotected lives, they never get to experience a normal childhood.

But these invisible children are no different from your children. They, too, have dreams of becoming successful some day as an entrepreneur maybe, or an astronaut, or even the next Justin Bieber. The only difference is that they remain in the shadows, their dreams never having the chance to be realised, and their lives trapped in the cycle of poverty.

That is not a life we dream for our children. Neither should it be for these children.

A child can become stateless in various ways. From simply being born in the wrong country, or because they are the "wrong" race, or because their parents are stateless, or because they were just abandoned and do not know where they were born and who their parents are. The list is endless but none of it is the child's fault.

A simple step that can be taken to prevent statelessness is by registering the birth of the child. This step is the first legal recognition of the child. While birth registration itself does not confer nationality in most cases, what it does provide is proof of place of birth and parental links information which is used to determine the child's nationality.

Despite the fact that most countries in the world have made a commitment to respect the right to an identity, 51 million births still go unregistered each year in developing countries, according to UNICEF. Industrialised countries are not immune to this problem either, albeit at a smaller problem, with some 218,000 unrecorded births each year.

It's an issue in Malaysia too, despite its high registration rates. Some children in the country are still unregistered, placing them at risk of abuse, exploitation and statelessness. Exact numbers are unknown but what is clear is that it is a worrying problem, given the number of cases that are highlighted frequently in the media.

The question then arises, who are these children in Malaysia? They are primarily found among the following vulnerable groups: abandoned babies, orphaned children, indigenous children, children from certain ethnic groups, and migrant children the same groups that are vulnerable to non-registration in other parts of the world.

A common thread tying these groups together is poverty. It is thus not a surprise that poverty together with lack of awareness, language difficulties, cultural practices, remote geographical locations and complex administrative requirements are the main barriers to registration.

As a result of non-registration at birth, there are children who have grown into non-registered adults with non-registered children of their own. Without a birth certificate, they are unable to work in the formal sector, to obtain a passport, driving licence, bank loan, vote, marry legally or even register the birth of their child. The inability of these individuals to realise their potential is a loss to their parents, family, community and the country at large. This is the case for some families in Malaysia, where several generations of them are unregistered, even though they were born and bred here and know no other country.

Today, new technologies are being taken advantage of to register births. These new systems use digital techniques and include mobile technology that allow people to register in remote areas. Simple cost-effective and innovative solutions such as these can change the lives of these children immediately. However, these solutions can only come about through commitment to provide increased resources, better infrastructure and more effective procedures.

The upcoming high-level meeting on the Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific provides an opportunity for Malaysia and other countries in the region to share knowledge, experience and resources which can go towards improving birth registration systems.

Let us give children the right start in life by making their lives count. Let us give them a chance for their dreams to be realised. Let us make visible the invisible children. It only takes one simple piece of paper. >

Selvi Supramaniam is the Child Protection Specialist with Unicef Malaysia.
 

Afghan refugees in Pakistan resist pressure to return
Publisher: AFP, Agence France Presse
Author: Guillaume Lavallee
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

Despite pressure from Islamabad and incentives from the UN, the vast majority of the 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan are still refusing to return to a country gripped by war and poverty.

"Some people think that the security situation has improved in Afghanistan, but they're wrong," said Malak Nader, who represents 500 families in the Jalala refugee camp on the outskirts of Mardan, a farming town in northwestern Pakistan.

"If we support the government, the Taliban will come the next day and slit our throats and if we support the Taliban, the coalition forces will come and bomb us," the truck driver told AFP.

More than five million Afghans fled their homeland for Pakistan in the early 1980s, soon after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

Since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime, 3.8 million have returned, leaving 1.6 million behind, most born and brought up in Pakistan.

But as the 2014 deadline nears for NATO combat troops to leave Afghanistan, they are under increasing pressure from Pakistan to leave.

Their formal refugee documents are valid only until December 31, and Islamabad has so far declined to confirm publicly that it will renew their residency.

"If they don't go in these conditions where every country is present in Afghanistan to provide them peace, when will they leave?" Pakistan's minister for states and frontier regions, Shaukat Ullah, told reporters recently.

"Our idea is that they should go and participate in their country's development."

At talks with Afghan and UN officials at the weekend, Pakistan said it wanted to make repatriation "faster and better" but reiterated its commitment to a "voluntary process" although saying the deadline remains the same.

In late October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) boosted incentives for Afghans to return – adding fuel, clothes and tarpaulin to the food package previously given to those looking to repatriate.

As a result, around 10,000 Afghans went home from October 23 to November 30 – more than double the number who were repatriated in the same period last year.

Preparing to join them was the elderly Azat Khan, who spent 30 years in exile in northwestern Pakistan but spoke to AFP as he got ready to drive back to Afghanistan.

He has always come and gone – first to fight the Russians, then to conduct business or to visit extended family – but this time it is for good.

"My house is completely destroyed over there, I have to rebuild it," said the father-of-11 from Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, upbeat about the future despite fears of a new civil war after 2014.

"I am happy to leave, it's costing me less," said Azat referring to the incentives from the United Nations.

But there is a catch: Afghans who leave give up their refugee status. If they come back, it will be without the protection of the law like a million other illegal Afghans, regularly accused by the Pakistanis of being criminals.

According to the UN, nearly 97 percent of the refugees have no intention of leaving Pakistan, largely due to the insecurity.

Faced with the stalemate, charities have suggested that a new permit should be created allowing Afghans and Pakistanis to work on both sides of the border, legally, without risk of being harassed.

If their refugee papers are not renewed, UNHCR representative in Pakistan Neill Wright said it was "hazy" what would happen on January 1.

"They have never knowingly deported or forced an Afghan registered refugee back," he said, adding that he was "quietly confident" the same situation would continue next year.

Back in Jalala, which looks more like a village than a refugee camp, with sugar cane fields and mud-brick homes, Nader said he did not want to risk losing everything in Pakistan for an uncertain future in Afghanistan.

"As long as the Pakistani government doesn't expel us, we'll stay here," he said, as a dozen men from the camp nodded in agreement.
 

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