Opposition lawmakers and NGOs have demanded answers from the government over its move to deport Myanmar nationals despite a court order.
They also called for Putrajaya to be more transparent and to reinstate access for human rights groups to enter immigration detention centres.
In an online press conference this morning, Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah questioned if any vulnerable groups had been deported.
“Were there children who were sent back and separated from their parents?
“Were there some United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cardholders who were sent back? Refugees who are seeking asylum - were they also sent back?
“These (questions) need to be answered by the government,” she said.
Yesterday, the Immigration Department said it deported 1,086 people in three Myanmar navy ships.
This was despite an interim stay issued by the Kuala Lumpur High Court to delay the exercise until 10am today (Jan 24).
Immigration Department director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said that none onboard were ethnic Rohingya or asylum seekers. He said deportees were those who had “voluntarily” agreed to return without any coercion involved.
It was previously reported that 1,200 Myanmar nationals would be deported but immigration said only 1,086 were sent back yesterday.
Today, Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto questioned the fate of the remaining 114 people.
“So who is in the balance group? Where are they now?” she asked.
Meanwhile, Klang lawmaker Charles Santiago asked if proper consent was sought before deportation.
“The immigration now has to produce that document and tell us that they have got a signature from everybody in a language that the individuals understand.
“(If) that did not take place... then Malaysia is in violation of the notion of refoulement - the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subject to persecution,” he said.
Allow access to depots
The other Pakatan Harapan lawmakers at the virtual press conference were Sivarasa Rasiah (Sungai Buloh), Hatta Ramli (Lumut), Hannah Yeoh (Segambut), Kelvin Yii (Bandar Kuching), Fahmi Fadzil (Lembah Pantai), and Teresa Kok (Seputeh).
The NGOs represented included Tenaganita, North-South Initiative, Bersih, Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor, and Progressive Voice - a Thailand-based Myanmar NGO.
They urged the government to give the UNHCR access to immigration detainees to ascertain if any were refugees and asylum seekers.
The international refugee agency has been barred from entering depots since August 2019 and thus could not corroborate the immigration department's statement that no refugees were deported yesterday.
Bersih executive director Yap Swee Seng called for the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to be given access as well.
“Given (how) the process of deportation is really shrouded in secrecy, nobody can ascertain that no refugees were involved in the deportation.
“Besides UNHCR, Suhakam should also be given access to the immigration detention centres,” he said, adding that the commission had a mandate to scrutinise such facilities.
Condemnation has been swift following the deportation exercise.
In a statement today, the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Immigration Department had put 1,086 lives at risk by deporting them back to a country that was now under military rule.
It thus called for a “full investigation” into whether any refugees were among them.
“Given Malaysia’s prior claims that no refugee cardholders were among those scheduled for return, the Immigration Department’s assurances carry little weight.
“Without a full and transparent investigation into these returns and an order permitting UNHCR access to all detainees, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia are at risk of prolonged detention and return to persecution,” said HRW Asia legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir.
Malaysia previously expressed “serious concern” after the Myanmar military seized power from its civilian government and arrested leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi.