KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 — Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned the Malaysian government today against deporting Myanmar refugees without a fair assessment of their safety needs, and urged the country to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the immigration centres to determine the status of the refugees.

In a statement, the human rights watchdog said Malaysia had in this year deported Myanmar nationals on multiple occasions without an objective risk assessment being conducted, citing two incidents when the Immigration violated a High Court order in February last year, and another deportation in September and October this year.

“Sending asylum seekers back to Myanmar means putting activists, dissidents, and persecuted minorities in the crosshairs of the repressive junta,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “

“The Malaysian government should grant the UN refugee agency immediate and unfettered access to everyone held in immigration detention to assess their refugee status claims and other needs for protection.”


About 185,000 refugees and asylum seekers — the majority from Myanmar, including over 100,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims — are registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

At least 17,500 people are being held in 21 immigration detention centres across the country, including more than 1,500 children. Conditions in immigration detention facilities are dire, it said.

The organisation then urged Malaysia not to step down from its obligation towards deportees despite the Myanmar military government’s promise to Malaysia on the safety of all Myanmar detainees who are returning.


“Promises of safety provided by Myanmar’s junta, which has been implicated in numerous summary executions, torture, and other abuses, mean little, especially if they cannot be independently monitored.

“Reuters reported that the October 6 flight included six officers who had defected from the Myanmar navy. At least three of them had sought to have UNHCR review their asylum claims and Myanmar junta officials detained at least one of the officers and his wife upon their arrival in Yangon,” said HRW.

The group then questioned the commitment given by incumbent foreign minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah to stand against the military government during the July Parliamentary meeting.

Since the military coup happened in February 2021, Myanmar’s military government had prosecuted, killed, tortured, and arrested dissidents and officials from the previous administration, amounting to crimes against humanity.

According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), the junta had killed more than 2,300 people and arrested nearly 16,000 since then.

Earlier this week, the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation in Malaysia (Merhrom) had appealed to Putrajaya to stop deporting 150 Myanmar asylum seekers, saying it would put them at risk of killing, rape, torture and arrest by the junta.

“We would like to reiterate that refugees are not a threat to any country. We were forced to flee war, genocide and persecution back home and seek refuge in the countries we believe can protect our faith and lives while the international community intervene to end war and genocide in our countries.

“Having a clear and comprehensive refugee policy and management will definitely benefit both refugees and host countries and their people,” Merhrom president Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani said.