KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian immigration authorities said Tuesday they have deported 1,086 Myanmar migrants, breaking a court order to halt their repatriation following an appeal by two human rights groups.
Just hours earlier, a high court granted a one-day stay order for the deportation of 1,200 Myanmar migrants to hear an appeal by Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia, which said refugees, asylum-seekers and minors were among those being sent back.
Immigration chief Khairul Dzaimee Daud said the 1,086 had agreed to return home voluntarily on three Myanmar naval ships. He stressed that they were all Myanmar nationals who were detained last year and didn’t include any Muslim ethnic Rohingya refugees or asylum-seekers.
“All of them have agreed to return voluntarily without being forced by any parties,” he said in a statement, adding that it was part of the department’s normal repatriation program.
The statement didn’t mention the court order or explain why only 1,086 were deported instead of 1,200.
Amnesty International called the decision “inhumane and devastating.”
“It appears the authorities railroaded this shockingly cruel deportation before any proper scrutiny of the decision,” it said in a statement. “This life-threatening decision has affected the lives of more than a thousand people and their families, and leaves an indelible stain on Malaysia’s human rights record, already in steep decline over the past year.”
The rights group earlier said the court would hear its appeal Wednesday and urged the government to reconsider its plans to send the migrants back home, where human rights violations are high following a Feb. 1 military coup that deposed the country’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
It urged the government to give the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees access to the 1,200 migrants and all immigration detention centers in general, which Malaysia’s government has denied since August 2019.
The immigration department earlier said the migrants were held for offenses including not having valid travel documents, overstaying their visas and violating social visit passes.
But the two rights groups in their legal filing named three people registered with the UNHCR and 17 minors who have at least one parent still in Malaysia. The UNHCR has separately said there were at least six people registered with it among the group to be deported.
Amnesty International and Asylum Access said the repatriation is tantamount to legitimizing ongoing human rights violations by Myanmar’s military and would put the migrants at risk of further persecution, violence and even death.
A group of 27 Malaysian lawmakers and senators also sent a letter to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday urging him to halt the deportation. There was no response from the prime minister’s office.
Malaysia doesn’t recognize asylum seekers or refugees, but 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.