Malaysia last month deported 114 Muslim Myanmar nationals despite the high likelihood that they would face repression on their return, the rights group Amnesty International Malaysia announced yesterday. In a statement, the group said that it learned of the deportation during hearings into a judicial review that it filed along with the legal aid group Asylum Access Malaysia.
The two organizations had filed the review following the forcible deportation of 1,086 individuals in February 2021, just weeks after Myanmar’s military seized power and overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The deportation took place despite a court order granting a temporary stay against their return to Myanmar – a move that Amnesty described at the time as “shockingly cruel.”
The group of 114, which included children, was initially slated for deportation but was kept behind after testing positive for COVID-19.
Their deportation followed a decision by the Kuala Lumpur High Court in December to lift the interim stay against the deportations. Amnesty said it was “dismayed” by both the lifting of the stay and the deportation, which was just “one of many understood to have been carried out by the Malaysian government since the 2021 Myanmar coup,” despite Kuala Lumpur’s frequent expressions of concern and condemnation about the deteriorating political situation in the country.
Last October, Reuters published a report claiming that the Malaysian government had deported 150 Myanmar nationals who had fled to the country since the coup, including six former Myanmar navy officers, all of whom were detained by military authorities upon their arrival in Yangon.
Malaysia has been a key destination for Myanmar nationals who have fled the country’s metastasizing conflicts, including tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya. Indeed, the country has been relatively welcoming of Rohingya refugees, who make up around two-thirds of the 158,870 asylum seekers from Myanmar who are registered with the Malaysian office of the U.N. human rights agency. But recent years have seen the country’s immigration department tighten its policy toward new arrivals from Myanmar, amid ongoing controversy about the conditions in the country’s immigration facilities.
This week, human rights groups urged Malaysia to investigate conditions at migrant detention centers after the government said 150 foreign nationals, including seven children, died in the facilities in 2022.
Although the 114 people deported to Myanmar last month were not Rohingya, their lawyer Lim Wei Jet told BenarNews yesterday that they have almost certainly faced persecution on their return to Myanmar.
“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 the outlet. “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’s punitive asylum policy – in which it seems set on deporting Myanmar nationals regardless of what the courts say – jars with the country’s relatively enlightened position on Myanmar’s post-coup crisis.
As Amnesty International Malaysia’s Executive Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv said in the statement, “The Malaysian government has vocally condemned the Myanmar military and gained international recognition for showing the necessary leadership in doing so, but by continuing to detain and deport individuals at risk, it undermines this position and exposes the government’s hypocrisy in policy and practice.”