Human Rights Watch urges full investigation into deportation of Myanmar migrants in violation of court order

Soo Wern Jun
·4-min read
Yesterday, the Immigration Department announced that it deported 1,086 Myanmar citizens despite a High Court’s order to temporarily suspend any efforts to do so. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Yesterday, the Immigration Department announced that it deported 1,086 Myanmar citizens despite a High Court’s order to temporarily suspend any efforts to do so. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — Human Rights Watch has called on the Malaysian government to initiate an investigation into the deportation of the 1,086 Myanmar nationals by the Immigration Department in defiance of a court order.

The international advocacy group said this was necessary as the deportation has allegedly put the Myanmar nationals’ lives at risk.

“The Malaysian government should urgently investigate the Immigration Department’s return of 1,086 Myanmar nationals to Myanmar in defiance of a court order.

“Despite the court order, the immigration authorities transferred 1,086 of them to the custody of the Myanmar navy for return to Myanmar,” said Human Rights Watch Asia legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir in a statement.

Yesterday, the Immigration Department announced that it deported 1,086 Myanmar citizens, whom it described as undocumented migrants, just hours after a High Court’s order to temporarily suspend any efforts to deport 1,200 individuals to Myanmar for one day, to allow a judicial review.

The department insisted it was entitled to do so and denied that the deportation was forced.

Today, Lakhdhir also urged Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to direct the Immigration Department to grant the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to detention centres in order to determine if there were refugees and asylum seekers detained.

Lakhdhir said such access has been denied as far back as 2019.

She criticised the Immigration Department for disregarding the court order as there was a possibility that some of the deportees were UNHCR card holders.

“On February 15, Immigration Director-General Khairul Dzaimee Daud asserted that the Myanmar nationals to be returned would not include UNHCR ‘cardholders’ or Rohingya refugees.

“Despite lack of access, Asylum Access and Amnesty International, in their application for judicial review filed on February 22, said they received information indicating that at least three UNHCR cardholders were among those scheduled for return.

“The groups also received information indicating that at least 17 children with one or more parents in Malaysia were among those scheduled for return,” Lakhdhir said.

Lakhdhir said that anything short of a full investigation of the incident and the restoration of UNHCR’s access to detainees would continue to expose refugees and asylum seekers to the risk of prolonged detention and return to persecution.

According to Lakhdhir, as of December 2020, more than 178,000 refugees were registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

More than 86 per cent are from Myanmar, including more than 100,000 Rohingya, 22,000 Chin, and 29,000 from other ethnic communities.

“The total number of refugees in Malaysia, including those from Myanmar, is likely much higher.

“More than one million ethnic and religious minorities from Myanmar have fled persecution, protracted human rights violations, and mass atrocity crimes by the Myanmar military in the past decade,” she said.

On February 1, the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government.

Since the coup, Myanmar security forces have used excessive and unnecessary lethal force against peaceful protesters, conducted hundreds of arbitrary arrests, amended laws to strip away rights, and blocked internet access nationwide.

“The international legal principle of nonrefoulement prohibits countries from returning any person on its territory or under its jurisdiction to a country where they may face persecution, torture, or other serious harm.

“Although Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, nonrefoulement is recognised as part of customary international law and is binding on all states.

“Given the Myanmar military’s repression of critics of the coup or the junta, as well as the military’s record of abuses against ethnic minorities, Malaysia’s failure to provide fair asylum procedures or allow UNHCR to make refugee determinations violates the government’s international legal obligations,” Lakhdhir said.

She also pointed out that Khairul not only did not provide information regarding the approximately 114 Myanmar nationals who were not transferred to the custody of the Myanmar navy, he did not specify whether the 17 children identified by Asylum Access and Amnesty International, or any other children with a parent in Malaysia, were among those returned to Myanmar.

“Separating children from their parents would violate Malaysia’s obligations under the Convention on Rights of the Child, to which Malaysia is a party.

“Under that convention, children should not be separated from their parents unless doing so is in the best interests of the child,” she said.

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