Rights groups claim at least two kids separated from families after Malaysia deports over 1,000 to Myanmar in defiance of court order

Rohingya refugee women and children walks to the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf in this file picture taken on September 5, 2017. — Reuters pic
Rohingya refugee women and children walks to the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Teknaf in this file picture taken on September 5, 2017. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 — A coalition of international human rights organisations highlighted today its concerns that Malaysia had shipped children to Myanmar alone where they risked repercussions of their families who fled the South-east Asian country for asylum.

The coalition includes the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights and the International Detention Coalition.

The coalition said it had received reports that at least two of the deported children had been separated from their asylum-seeking families who had gone to Malaysia.

The Malaysian Immigration Department had deported 1,086 Myanmar nationals, including UN refugee cardholders, to their home country last Tuesday, in defiance of a High Court order.

“Given that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been denied access to verify and assess individuals fleeing persecution since August 2019, Malaysia also lacks a domestic policy and legal framework for the identification and recognition of refugees in the country,” the coalition said in a joint statement.

Despite assurances from the Immigration Department that those deported did not include Rohingya refugees or asylum seekers, it said there is a substantial risk that the group includes refugees and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children.

“According to Asylum Access and Amnesty International Malaysia, there were at least three UNHCR card holders and 17 children among those scheduled for deportation.

“In November last year, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia estimated there were approximately 1,000 refugees and people seeking asylum still in detention. The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed that as of October 26, 2020, more than 756 minors are in immigration detention, with over 326 unaccompanied or separated children from Myanmar,” said the coalition.

It strongly urged Putrajaya to grant UNHCR immediate and unfettered access to immigration detention facilities, as well as to investigate the deportation of the 1,086 refugees since it was in defiance of the interim stay order granted by the High Court in KL earlier that same day.

Of the original 1,200 refugees scheduled to be deported, 114 were not handed over to the Myanmar authorities as the extended stay order was issued before they could be handed over.

“The Malaysian government has yet to provide information on the 114 persons or their whereabouts. Additionally returning individuals in need of international protection to Myanmar, especially children rendered unaccompanied through forcible separation from their parents or guardians, would amount to serious violation of Malaysia’s Child Act and Malaysia’s international obligations, notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the principle of non-refoulement,” said the coalition.

As Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, many of whom reside in exile in Malaysia, have faced atrocities at the hands of its military over the decades, the coalition said there is great fear that life for these minorities will likely worsen if they are deported back into the hands of the military junta-led government.

“Given the increasing instability and drastic shift in the political landscape in Myanmar, individuals who were previously not exposed to protection risks might now face severe security and safety threats.

“We therefore call upon the Malaysian government to urgently grant UNHCR immediate and unrestricted access to the 114 individuals and all immigration detention facilities to verify the status of all detainees, and release those individuals in need of international protection as identified by UNHCR who are still in detention, especially amongst the 114 who remained.

“The Malaysian government should also comply with the extended stay order issued against the deportation of the remaining 114 who were part of the original 1,200 to be deported, and it should also open an independent and thorough investigation into the breach by the Immigration Department of Tuesday’s court order, ensuring that those acting in violation of the court order are held fully accountable,” it said.

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