Malaysia says no refugees among 1,200 Myanmar nationals to be deported

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia said on Monday it will not deport any Rohingya Muslims or migrants registered with the U.N. refugee agency, after Reuters reported that it was planning to send 1,200 Myanmar nationals back to the country.

Malaysia had agreed to return them after the Myanmar military, which seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, offered to send three navy ships to pick up its citizens held in Malaysian immigration detention centres, officials and sources told Reuters last week.

In response, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had urged Malaysia not to hand over asylum-seekers, saying it was concerned that a number of those in detention may require international protection, including vulnerable women and children.

Muslim-majority Malaysia is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention and treats all arrivals without proper documentation as illegal migrants.

In the past, people from Myanmar held in Malaysian detention centres have included members of the ethnic Chin, Kachin and Rohingya communities fleeing conflict and persecution.

Malaysia's Director-General of Immigration Khairul Dzaimee Daud said on Monday the Myanmar nationals to be deported would not include UNHCR cardholders or Rohingya migrants.

They had been detained for offences such as not having proper identification documents, or overstaying and misusing their travel passes, he said in a statement.

"This is just part of the usual process of deporting foreign citizens held in the Immigration Depots," he said.

It was unclear whether any of the Myanmar nationals to be sent back had sought asylum since being detained.

The UNHCR has not been allowed entry to Malaysia's detention centres since August 2019.

Malaysia is home to more than 154,000 asylum-seekers from Myanmar. Rights groups have expressed concern over the safety of Myanmar refugees after the military coup.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Alex Richardson)