On Tuesday (Feb 23), weeks after a coup, after a final legal appeal, a Malaysian courtroom ordered the temporary halt of a divisive proposal to deportation 1200 Myanmar detainees.
In the military base on Malaysia’s western coast, refugees, including representatives of marginalized minorities, had been already loaded into Myanmar naval boats by bus and truck.
The U.S. and the United Nations opposed the proposal, while rights organizations said that among the citizens to be repatriated were asylum seekers.
Amnesty International and Asylum Access Organisations had presented a legal challenge alleging that Malaysia is in violation of its international obligations by returning vulnerable individuals to a country where they may be at risk.
On Wednesday, their lawyer New Sin Yew told AFP the high court in Kuala Lumpur ordered the repatriation to cease, so that a hearing will occur in the group’s attempt to avoid the deportations.
The Managing Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv of Amnesty International Malaysia said that “the government must respect the court order and ensure that not one of the 1,200 individuals is deported today”
She called on authorities to allow access to deported migrants to the UN refugee agency to decide if any refugee status should be granted.
“It’s important to note that the stay of execution granted by the court does not mean the 1,200 are safe from being deported. They are facing life-threatening risks,” she added.
“We urge the government to reconsider its plans to send this group of vulnerable people back to Myanmar.”
‘SHOW BE THEY’ ‘ ‘
According to the AFP journalists on the scene, tens of busses and trucks carrying the migrants and escorted by police cars had previously arrived at the naval base in Lumut.
At the beginning of February the Myanmar military seized power and arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, a civilian leader who led major protests.
Initial “serious concern” was expressed by Malaysia at the coup, but days later news came that an offer from the Myanmar Junta was accepted for the return of the detainees.
Officials state that those returning have committed crimes such as the excess of their visas and there are no people in Myanmar who belong to the oppressed Rohingya minority – who have not been accepted as residents.
However, according to Lilianne Fan, the International Director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, who works with the refugees, the detainees include representatives of the Christian Chin community and citizens from the conflict-ridden Kachin and Shan states.
Since late 2019, Malaysian authorities have blocked the United Nations refugee agency from immigration detention centers, thus failing to identify who should be granted the status of refugees.
The president of the Malaysian Chin Refugee Alliance James Bawi Thang Bik reported that he was “shocked” to hear that Chin was one of the people to be deported.
“They are refugees who came from a conflict area,” he said to AFP.
Malaysia has millions of migrants who work in low-paid jobs, like construction, from poorer parts of Asia. They are from Bangladesh and Indonesia as well as Myanmar.