Malaysia’s high court has allowed a challenge brought by two human rights groups against a government plan to deport 1,200 Myanmar nationals back to the country last month.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court said on Tuesday that Amnesty International and Asylum Access had the standing to challenge the deportation and extended a ban on the removal of the remaining members of the group until the completion of the full hearing.
There are 114 Myanmar nationals remaining in Malaysia after most of the group were sent back on February 23 on three ships that had been sent by the Myanmar navy, despite a last-minute court order that the government delay the move pending judicial review.
Filing the case last month, the NGOs argued that the group should not be returned to Myanmar because it included three people in possession of registration cards from the UN’s refugee agency and 17 children with at least one parent in Malaysia.
The human rights groups said the people would be at risk if they were returned to Myanmar, where the military seized power in a coup on February 1.
At a press conference later on Tuesday, Amnesty and Asylum Access said they expected the process could take a few months.
Malaysia’s immigration department has said the group were undocumented migrants and did not include asylum seekers or Rohingya.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it has not been allowed access to Malaysia’s immigration detention centres since August 2019.
The next hearing is due to take place on March 23. Lawyers for the two rights groups said they would be seeking more information from the authorities on the group.
There were some 178,710 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia at the end of January, according to the agency. More than 86 percent are from Myanmar.