Malaysia has sent more than 1000 Myanmar nationals back to their strife-torn homeland despite a court order to halt the deportation, pending a petition by human rights groups.
The 1086 Myanmar citizens were sent back on three navy ships sent by Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a February 1 coup, sparking weeks of protests from pro-democracy activists.
Malaysia had initially said it would deport 1200.
Malaysia vowed not to deport Rohingya Muslims or refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
But the UNHCR has said at least six people registered with it are among the deportees.
Malaysia sent 1,086 Myanmar nationals back to their strife-torn homeland on Tuesday despite a court order to halt the deportation, pending a petition by rights groups to suspend a plan they say could endanger the deportees’ lives.
— Rozanna Latiff (@rozlatiff) February 23, 2021
Refugee groups also say asylum seekers from the minority Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya Muslim communities fleeing conflict and persecution at home are among those being deported.
Malaysia’s Immigration Department Director-General said the repatriated Myanmar citizens did not include Rohingya refugees or asylum-seekers.
“All of those returned had agreed to be sent back voluntarily without being forced by any party,” Khairul Dzaimee Daud said in a statement.
He did not respond to queries on why the repatriation was carried out despite the halt ordered by the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
The court had granted a stay until 10am on Wednesday, when it was scheduled to hear an application by rights groups for a judicial review to suspend the deportation.
Just before the court order, the migrants were bussed in from across the country to the naval base at Lumut in western Malaysia where the Myanmar ships were docked.
Myanmar migrants to be deported from Malaysia are seen inside an immigration truck. Myanmar's junta sent ships to bring them back, but rights groups are trying to stop the deportations of people they say could be at risk #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/mUbiACz0xl
— Matthew Tostevin (@TostevinM) February 23, 2021
Those deported had been detained for immigration offences.
Malaysia does not formally recognise refugees, treating them as undocumented migrants.
Amnesty International, one of the groups which asked for the judicial review, has said among the deportees were three people registered with the UNHCR and 17 minors who have at least one parent in Malaysia.
“We urge the government to reconsider its plans to send this group of vulnerable people back to Myanmar, where human rights violations are currently dangerously high,” Katrina Maliamauv, Amnesty Malaysia director, said after the court ruling.
Concerns over deportation of unregistered asylum seekers have persisted, as UNHCR has not been allowed to interview detainees for over a year to verify their status.
The South-East Asian nation is home to more than 154,000 asylum-seekers from Myanmar.
The United States and other Western missions have been trying to dissuade Malaysia from proceeding with the deportation and urged the government to allow UNHCR to interview the detainees.
They also say Malaysia is legitimising the military government by co-operating with the junta.