(Bangkok) – Since mid-August 2022, Malaysian authorities have accelerated the number of asylum seekers summarily deported to Myanmar, where their lives and freedom are at risk, Human Rights Watch said today. Since April, Malaysian immigration authorities have returned more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals, including military deserters, without assessing their asylum claims or other protection needs – more than half of them course of the last two months.
Although more deportations are expected, the Malaysian government continues to deny the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, access to detention centers for migrants. Since August 2019, UNHCR has not been able to assess whether those detained are entitled to protection. The Malaysian government should urgently end summary deportations and grant UNHCR immediate access to detained migrants to determine their refugee status.
“Returning asylum seekers 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 unhindered access to anyone detained for immigration to assess their refugee status claims and other protection needs.
Around 185,000 refugees and asylum seekers – the majority from Myanmar, including more than 100,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims – are registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. At least 17,500 people are held in 21 migrant detention centers across the country, including more than 1,500 children. Conditions in immigration detention centers are dire.
On September 2, officials from the junta-aligned Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur met with Malaysian immigration officials to discuss the deportation of Myanmar nationals in detention. Malaysian embassy and immigration officials have since coordinated three chartered deportation flights, organized by the Malaysian government, returning 149 Myanmar nationals on September 22, 150 on October 6 and 150 on October 20. on Myanmar Airways International flights between April and mid-September, according to the Myanmar embassy and junta media.
Reuters reported that the October 6 flight included six officers who had defected from the Myanmar Navy. Malaysian authorities had arrested the men in September. At least three of them had asked the UNHCR to examine their asylum claims. Burmese junta officials arrested at least one of the officers and his wife upon their arrival in Yangon.
Given the widespread human rights abuses committed by the junta, the forced returns of asylum seekers and refugees to Myanmar violate the international legal principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits countries from returning anyone to a country where he is at risk of persecution, torture or other serious harm. Although Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, the principle of non-refoulement is recognized as part of customary international law and is binding on all countries.
Since the February 2021 military coup, Myanmar’s junta has waged a nationwide campaign of massacres, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Security forces killed more than 2,300 people and arrested nearly 16,000, according to the Political Prisoners Assistance Association (Burma).
Malaysia’s failure to provide fair asylum procedures or allow UNHCR to determine refugee status also violates the government’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said.
UNHCR said on October 20 that it “urges countries in the region to immediately end the forced returns of Myanmar nationals seeking refuge from serious harm. Sending them back to the country puts countless lives at risk.
Deportations are taking place in an increasingly hostile environment for refugees and migrants in Malaysia. In July, the government launched a program requiring all refugees and asylum seekers to register for biometric ID cards to replace cards from UNHCR, which is overseen by the former intelligence chief of the font. Officials also recently proposed ending UNHCR’s presence in Malaysia to deal with refugees “without foreign interference”.
In February 2021, immigration authorities violated a High Court order granting a temporary stay of deportation to 1,200 Myanmar nationals, transferring the majority to the custody of the Myanmar Navy hours after the order. . A UN panel of experts said they were “appalled” by the ruling, and that Malaysia’s “disregard for the court order violated the principle of non-refoulement…which absolutely prohibits the collective expulsion of migrants without an objective risk assessment being carried out for each individual”. Case.”
The Malaysian government has indeed admitted to relying on so-called diplomatic assurances to protect returned Myanmar nationals from undue treatment in Myanmar. In response to a UN communication on the February 2021 deportations, the Malaysian government said: “The Malaysian government reiterates that the repatriation of detained migrants has been a steady and continuous effort.… Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur had given assurances that the safety of all migrants detained in Myanmar who voluntarily returned to Myanmar.
Promises of security 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. The Malaysian government cannot abdicate its obligations to the deportees based on such assurances.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah meanwhile called for stronger action against the Burmese junta, including by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). “ASEAN needs to decide – where are we?” Saifuddin said last month. “Are we continuing with the junta? Or do we work without the junta and support people who we know are doing good work? »
The Malaysian government should ratify the International Refugee Convention and establish asylum procedures that meet international standards for stateless persons and foreign nationals at risk of persecution in their home country, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities should develop regulations to ensure that any future returns fully comply with international law.
“While some Malaysian leaders are calling out the Burmese junta for crimes against humanity, immigration authorities are forcibly returning asylum seekers directly to danger, where they truly fear for their lives,” Bauchner said. “At the ASEAN summit in November, Southeast Asian leaders should pledge to protect people fleeing the junta’s atrocities and to ensure that all parts of their governments do the same. “