Malaysia deports 114 Muslim Myanmar nationals, including children, their lawyer says

Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Iskandar Zulkarnain
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia deports 114 Muslim Myanmar nationals, including children, their lawyer says A bus carrying people believed to be Myanmar migrants in Malaysia is seen heading toward the naval base in Lumut, outside Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 23, 2021.
[Mohd. Rasfan/AFP]

Malaysia has deported 114 Muslim Myanmar nationals who will be persecuted by the ruling military when they return, although they are not Rohingya, their lawyer said Thursday.

Amnesty International Malaysia said Kuala Lumpur returned the Myanmar nationals to their strife-torn country, despite condemning the Burmese junta’s violence against its own people.

Lim Wei Jet, a lawyer appointed for the Myanmar nationals by Amnesty, said the Burmese military, which ousted an elected government in February 2021, ostracizes Muslims.

“It’s against the non-refoulement principle and the right to live, whereby you shouldn’t deport someone back to a country where they will be imminently persecuted because of their race and religion,” he told BenarNews.

“In this case, it is because they are Muslim, and Muslims are discriminated against by the junta in Myanmar. And we are also saying that children were deported. The rights of children are also being breached, so we are saying it’s still unlawful.”

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. But according to the principle of non-refoulement, people cannot be sent back to a country where they are likely to be persecuted, tortured, mistreated or have their human rights violated in other ways.

An Amnesty statement said the deportation took place “despite information from court proceedings that the group included children and other people in vulnerable situations.”

In February 2021, the Malaysian government sent back 1,086 Myanmar nationals despite a High Court’s interim stay on the deportation of a group of 1,200. The 114 Myanmar nationals remained in Malaysia because they had tested positive for COVID-19 only to be sent back last month.

The director-general of immigration and then-Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin previously applied to lift the stay, saying the 114 Myanmar nationals had agreed to be deported. Rights groups disputed the alleged consent, claiming that it was not received voluntarily.

Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, said in the statement Thursday that her organization was “deeply dismayed” that the Malaysian government not only “proactively” sought to get a stay on their deportation lifted, it also then sent back the individuals.

“The Malaysian government has criticized the Myanmar military and won international praise for its leadership, but by detaining and deporting at-risk individuals, it contradicts this position and exposes its hypocrisy in policy and practice,” Maliamauv said.

Earlier this month, Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim called on Southeast Asian nations to take urgent steps to resolve the crisis in post-coup Myanmar.

“[N]o country in these times should ever continue with discriminatory policies, marginalization of their people or intimidating, or worse, perpetrating violence against your own people,” he said while on a visit to Thailand.

BenarNews contacted the Malaysian Home Minister’s office and the Immigration Department for comment but did not immediately hear back.

In October 2022, Myanmar’s shadow government voiced alarm over reports that military defectors were among 150 Myanmar nationals deported that month from Malaysia. They were among more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals deported since April, Human Rights Watch said in a statement at the time.

Syed Hamid Albar, a former diplomat and chairman of the Malaysian Advisory Group on Myanmar, said the Malaysian government was wrong to continue deporting refugees who could face persecution and even death when they return.

“We should abide by international law and international standards. Strictly, you cannot deport refugees to a country where their life is in danger, and because their status is that of refugees, they should be given protection,” he told BenarNews on Thursday.

“They cannot be sent back to the country where they ran away from because of persecution or violence. For sure, when they go back, they will be harmed. In some cases, they will be killed. No country should send refugees back to the country they escape from.”


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