The United Nations and the United States have joined human rights groups criticising Malaysia after the government defied a court order not to return a group of more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals to the country pending a judicial review.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US was “concerned” about the move.
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He noted Myanmar had a “long, documented history of human rights abuses against members of religious and ethnic minority groups.”
Malaysia returned 1,086 Myanmar nationals to their home country on three ships sent by Myanmar’s navy on Tuesday night, even though the High Court had earlier ruled the process should be delayed pending a court action by human rights and refugee groups concerned the group would be at risk if they were sent back to Myanmar.
“The Malaysian authorities, in defiance of the court order breached the principle of non-refoulement, which absolutely prohibits the collective deportation of migrants without an objective risk assessment being conducted in each individual case,” a group of six UN human rights experts said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Unaccompanied minors and toddlers as young as three years old,” were among those deported, it noted.
“Children should not have been separated from their family or returned without determining that their return is in their best interests.”
On Wednesday, the Malaysian court issued an order to delay the return of the remaining 114 people in a move welcomed by Amnesty International and Asylum Access Malaysia, which condemned the Tuesday deportation by the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as a violation of international human rights.
“We believe the government owes an explanation to the people of Malaysia as to why they chose to defy the court order, and on the identity and status of all 1,200 people,” said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia.
“These dangerous deportations have not been properly scrutinised and put individuals at grave risk.”
Kairul Dzaimee Daud, director-general of Malaysia’s immigration department, said the group were Myanmar nationals who were detained last year during crackdowns on undocumented migrants and had agreed to return “voluntarily”.
He said they did not include asylum-seekers or any refugees from the persecuted Rohingya minority.
‘Endangering lives of migrants’
The move came just hours after the Kuala Lumpur High Court granted an interim stay barring the removal of the 1,200 people until 10am (02:00 GMT) on Wednesday.
The order followed a request for judicial review from Amnesty International and Asylum Access, who said the group’s lives would be at risk, noting that a number of people had been confirmed as need of protection from the UN refugee agency and that more than a dozen were children with at least one parent in Malaysia.
Amnesty’s Maliamauv said the government’s decision to proceed with the deportation could also breach the country’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
“Authorities must halt them before they endanger more lives. They must stop trying to railroad these deportations without accountability,” said Maliamauv.
The group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also said the move set a “dangerous precedent” that endangered the lives of asylum seekers.
Myanmar’s military seized power more than three weeks ago, claiming there had been electoral fraud during parliamentary elections last November.
It has detained the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other politicians and activists, sparking nationwide protests.
THREAD: Deportation of 1,086 Myanmar Nationals from Malaysia | https://t.co/6QSAhBREK5
MSF says the decision by the Malaysian Government to deport 1,086 Myanmar nationals from Malaysia, despite a court order to temporarily halting the deportation, sets a dangerous precedent. pic.twitter.com/1ZFtrZzwCM
— MSF in Southeast Asia (@MSF_seAsia) February 24, 2021
Rights groups say the situation in Myanmar puts people at risk.
In a joint statement, four opposition lawmakers in Malaysia also condemned the “inhumane” deportation and suggested government officials could be held in contempt for ignoring the court’s decision.
“This act … is a clear display that the Malaysian government does not respect the ongoing court process and has put Malaysia in a bad light on the human rights front,” they said.
Malaysia is home to millions of migrants from the region – documented and undocumented – who often work in the kind of poorly paid jobs Malaysians do not want to do.
There are also nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.
The vast majority are from Myanmar, including 102,250 Rohingya, as well as tens of thousands from other ethnic minority groups who have fled conflict in their homeland.
Refugees and asylum seekers are also at risk of being detained as “undocumented migrants” because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. The UN refugee agency has not been able to visit the country’s immigration detention centres to verify people’s claims since August 2019.