A blast from the past – resettling Vietnamese refugees

31 Dec

According to an SMH report based on declassified documents, the former UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was so paranoid about having refugees in the country that she asked Australia to buy an island for their resettlement.

The issue of force migration must have been a controversial issue even back then. This could be inferred from the drastic measures of the Malaysian government which chose to push back the boats that is believed to have caused many of the refugees to drown. It was also ironic that the former Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was quoted as objecting to this resettlement plan as he was afraid that it might become a ‘rival entrepreneurial city’. This would contradict his social Darwinian views in which he believed that a prosperous society is based on being governed by ‘educated’ elites.

Malcolm Fraser, the Liberal Prime Minister then, rejected the plan for a refugee colony and Australia went on to receive about 220,000 Vietnamese refugees. He has also publicly criticised the Opposition for their fear-mongering propaganda against refugees.

As Obama’s administration escalates its war on terror (both in Afghanistan and Pakistan) coupled with climate change related catastrophes, the global issue of forced migration is expected to intensify. In that sense, it is time to re-examine the international laws on refugees (the 1951 Convention & 1967 protocol) which is clearly dated and leaves too much discretion to individual states in arbitrarily defining who constitutes a refugee.

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