Let UNHCR meet with 1,200 Myanmar deportees, rights groups urge after court’s temporary stay order

Myanmar migrants to be deported from Malaysia are seen inside an immigration truck, in Lumut February 23, 2021. ― Reuters pic
Myanmar migrants to be deported from Malaysia are seen inside an immigration truck, in Lumut February 23, 2021. ― Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 23 — The Malaysian government should allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit and check on the 1,200 people that Malaysia planned on deporting to Myanmar, rights group said, following a local court order to pause the deportation plans for one day.

In a joint statement by Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia, Amnesty International Malaysia’s executive director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv welcomed the High Court’s decision to temporarily stay the Malaysian government’s planned deportation of the 1,200 individuals to Myanmar, pending the hearing of a judicial review bid in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.

She said that the 1,200 individuals include some holders of valid UNHCR documents, asylum seekers and children separated from their parents who are still in Malaysia.

“In light of the court ruling, the government must respect the court order and ensure that not one of the 1,200 individuals is deported today.

“Instead, it must grant access to UNHCR to all 1,200 individuals and all immigration detention centres in general, which the government has denied since August 2019.

“This would enable the UN agency to verify asylum claims and identify refugees already registered,” she said in the statement.

The Malaysian government had initially planned to deport the 1,200 individuals via three navy ships sent by the Myanmar military this afternoon.

Even with the High Court’s one-day stay to suspend the deportation of the 1,200 individuals ahead of the judicial review hearing tomorrow at 10am, Katrina said that this does not mean the 1,200 are safe from being deported and said they still face life-threatening risks.

“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,” she said.

On Monday, Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia had jointly filed for judicial review, following the UNHCR’s confirmation that at least six persons registered with the UN agency were among those scheduled to be deported.

Based on court documents sighted by Malay Mail, Asylum Access Malaysia and Amnesty International Malaysia had as Asylum Access Berhad and Aimal Sdn Bhd filed for judicial review against three respondents, namely the immigration director-general, the home minister and the government of Malaysia.

The judicial review bid by Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia is aimed at obtaining a court order to prevent the deportation, and includes the names and details of three UNHCR document holders and 17 minors who had at least one parent still in Malaysia.

In the court documents, the court orders sought are for a quashing of the respondents’ decision to deport the three UNHCR document holders which had been recognised as refugees by the UNHCR, and a quashing of the respondents’ decision to deport the 17 children, and a quashing of the respondents’ decision to deport the 1,200 Myanmar nationals who were detained in immigration detention centres to Myanmar, as well as three separate prohibition orders against the respondents to disallow the deporting of the three UNHCR-recognised refugees, the 17 children and the 1,200 persons.

According to an online listing of the case, Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia’s joint application for leave for judicial review is set to be heard through video-conferencing tomorrow by High Court judge Datuk Seri Mariana Yahya.

Malay Mail understands that lawyers Datuk Seri Ambiga Sreenevasan, Lim Wei Jiet and New Sin Yew will be appearing on behalf of Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia in the online hearing tomorrow for leave for judicial review.

News wire Reuters cited refugee groups as saying that those who were to be deported by the Malaysian government include asylum seekers from the minority Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya Muslim communities fleeing conflict and persecution in Myanmar, while also stating Malaysia as saying it would not be deporting UNHCR-registered refugees or Rohingya Muslims.

Earlier today, the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM) noted that the Malaysian government’s plans to deport 1,200 individuals to Myanmar amid political insecurity there would mean sending them to an uncertain fate and into a hostile and dangerous situation.

“We, therefore, call on the government of Malaysia not to participate in the disavowing of refugees as it is an act contrary to international law and norms. 

“Instead, the prime minister should grant UNHCR full access to detention centres to identify refugees and asylum seekers and ensure their protection and safety. 

“Until such time when law and order is restored in Myanmar, and a democratically-elected government is firmly in place, chosen by the popular vote of its citizens, we should not cast the lives of these 1,200 detained Myanmar nationals into an undesired and dangerous territory.

“Not a single asylum seeker, refugee and anyone else whose life is under threat should be forced to return to Myanmar or any other country where they may face persecution, and even death in a situation of conflict,” CCM general secretary Rev Hermen Shastri said in the statement released around noon.

Separately, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia (CBCM) at around 1pm today similarly called on the Malaysian government to not subject the 1,200 individuals to an uncertain and unknown fate by repatriating them to Myanmar amid “grave political uncertainty” there, having noted that these individuals include refugees and asylum seekers who had fled due to a grave humanitarian crisis.

“We also ask that an international organisation such as the UNHCR be allowed to verify these individuals so that their personal security can be guaranteed. 

“As caring Malaysians, we should not subject anyone to situations that are marked by fear, uncertainty and unease,” CBCM said in a statement signed by its president Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Rev Julian Leow Beng Kim and Bishop of Penang Rev Sebastian Francis, Bishop of Melaka and Johor Rev Bernard Paul, Archbishop of Kota Kinabalu Rev John Wong, Bishop of Keningau Rev Cornelius Piong, Bishop of Sandakan Rev Julius Gitom, Archbishop of Kuching Rev Simon Poh, Bishop of Miri Rev Richard Ng, and Bishop of Sibu Rev Joseph Hii.

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