Groups take court action, send letters of appeal to stop Malaysia from sending 1,200 people back to Myanmar.
Human rights groups have stepped up efforts to stop Malaysia from deporting 1,200 Myanmar nationals back to military-run Myanmar, sending a letter to the prime minister and filing a lawsuit on Tuesday.
The group, which includes at least six people the UN refugee agency has determined to need its protection, are due to be taken back to Myanmar by the country’s navy, which has three ships on standby in Lumut, a naval base on Malaysia’s west coast.
Amnesty International said on Twitter it had sent a letter of appeal to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stressing “public opposition” to the plan. It said it had received more than 1,000 letters calling on Malaysia to stop the deportation.
Amnesty and Asylum Access earlier filed a judicial review, saying the group’s lives would be at risk and that some of the detainees were children with at least one parent in Malaysia. The hearing was due to start at 12 noon (04:00 GMT) in Malaysia.
“Sending them to Myanmar, at time when the country is facing increasing human rights violations and violence committed in the course of a coup that led to at least two deaths over the weekend, is a cruel act that violates the international principle of non-refoulement,” Amnesty and Asylum Access said in a joint statement on Monday evening.
— Amnesty International Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) February 23, 2021
Tham Hui Ying, the executive director of Asylum Access, said returning the children would breach Malaysia’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its own Child Act that “clearly states the government’s responsibility to protect children”.
Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on February 1, detaining the country’s elected leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. Malaysia was among a handful of countries in the region to condemn the military’s move.
“As the world condemns the political violence in Myanmar, we are appalled to note that the Malaysian government has instead chosen to send 1,200 individuals to a rapidly deteriorating situation,” the joint statement said.
Malaysia is home to millions of migrants from around the region – documented and undocumented – who often work in the kind of poorly paid jobs that Malaysians do not want to do.
There are also nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.
The vast majority are from Myanmar, including 102,250 Rohingya, as well as tens of thousands from other ethnic minority groups who have fled conflict in their homeland.
They are also at risk of being detained as “undocumented” migrants because Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. The UN refugee agency has not been able to visit immigration detention centres in the country since August 2019.
“This is a time to extend protection to people fleeing Myanmar and grant the UN access, not put them into the hands of a military junta with a long track record of serious human rights violations,” Amy Smith, the executive director of Fortify Rights said in a statement calling on Malaysia to stop the deportation. “This plan puts lives at risk and gives undeserving legitimacy to the abusive military coup in Myanmar.”