KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian lawmakers and rights groups on Wednesday demanded that the government explain why it violated a court stay order and deported 1,086 Myanmar migrants, saying it put their lives in danger following Myanmar’s military coup.
A high court on Tuesday ordered a stay of the repatriation of 1,200 Myanmar nationals pending an appeal by Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia, which said there were refugees, asylum-seekers and minors among the group.
But hours later, the immigration department said it had sent 1,086 of them back on three Myanmar military ships. It insisted there were no refugees and asylum-seekers on board, and that all had voluntarily agreed to return home.
The act was a “a clear display that the Malaysian government does not respect the ongoing court process and has put Malaysia in a bad light on the human rights front,” four opposition lawmakers said in a statement.
They said the government must provide details about the 1,086 who were deported, reveal if there were any children and explain how consent was obtained from them.
The U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees has said that at least six people among the 1,200 were registered with it. The two rights groups in their lawsuit named at least three UNHCR cardholders and 17 minors with one parent still in Malaysia.
The two groups said Wednesday that the court has ordered a stay on the deportation of the remaining 114 migrants pending its decision on March 9 on whether to hear their appeal.
New Sin Yew, a lawyer for the rights groups, said the court will also decide how to deal with the immigration department for breaching its order to halt the deportation.
“We believe the government owes an explanation to the people of Malaysia as to why they chose to defy the court order, and on the identity and status of all 1,200 people,” said Amnesty Malaysia director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv.
“There is clear, documented evidence of an escalation in human rights violations in Myanmar since the coup earlier this month. Therefore, no deportation to Myanmar can be treated as part of any ‘normal exercise,’ but demands more scrutiny,” she said.
The rights groups reiterated their call for the government to give UNCHR, which has been barred from immigration detention centers since August 2019, access to the migrants to examine their claims.
The immigration department earlier said the migrants were detained last year for offenses including not having valid travel documents, overstaying their visas and violating social visit passes.
Malaysia doesn’t recognize asylum seekers or refugees, who are often treated as undocumented migrants. But it has allowed a large population to stay on humanitarian grounds. It is home to some 180,000 U.N. refugees and asylum seekers — including more than 100,000 Rohingya and other members of Myanmar ethnic groups.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar since August 2017, when the military cracked down in response to attacks by a rebel group. The security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes.