Malaysian court suspends mass deportation of migrants to Burma

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Lumut | A Malaysian court on Tuesday temporarily suspended the deportation to Burma of 1,200 Burmese migrants, a controversial project that had been denounced by human rights organizations, three weeks after the junta’s coup.

These detainees, including members of vulnerable minorities, had already been transported by bus and truck to a military base on the west coast of Malaysia, from where they were to be loaded onto three Burmese military vessels.

The United States and the UN had strongly criticized the deportation plan, while human rights organizations claimed that asylum seekers were among those at risk of deportation.

Amnesty International and Asylum Access had filed a lawsuit, arguing that Malaysia would violate its international obligations if it deported the migrants and explaining that the lives of some of them would be threatened if they returned to Burma.

On Tuesday, the High Court of Kuala Lumpur ordered the suspension of the eviction to allow the examination, on Wednesday, of the appeal brought by the associations against this project, announced to AFP their lawyer New Sin Yew.

Amnesty International Malaysia’s Executive Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv urged the government to “respect the court ruling and ensure that none of the 1,200 individuals are deported today”.

She also called on the authorities to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to prisoners, in order to determine who should be granted asylum.

“Refugees from conflict zones”

“It is important to note that the suspension decided by the court does not mean that the 1200 are sure not to be deported. They face deadly risks, ”she said.

“We call on the government to review its plans to send this group of vulnerable people to Burma.”

AFP journalists present on site had previously seen dozens of buses and taxis carrying migrants arrive at the Lumut naval base, under good police escort.

The Burmese army overthrew the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi in early February, which sparked a massive campaign of protests.

Malaysia had expressed “serious concern” after the coup. But a few days later, according to media reports, she gave the green light for the junta to send ships to recover the detained migrants.

Malaysian authorities maintain that the latter have committed offenses, such as exceeding their residence permit, and that no member of the Rohingya minority is among the migrants on the verge of deportation.

However, detainees include Chins, a predominantly Christian minority, and people from the conflict-ridden Kachin (north) and Shan (east) states, according to Lilianne Fan, international director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, which works with refugees.

Malaysian authorities have banned UNHCR from their detention centers since the end of 2019, which means that the UN agency cannot determine which of the prisoners should be granted refugee status.

James Bawi Thang Bik, chairman of the Malaysia-based Chin Refugee Alliance, said he was shocked to learn that members of this minority were among the 1,200 people.

“These are refugees who come from a conflict zone,” he told AFP.

Malaysia hosts millions of migrants from the poorest parts of Asia – including Burma, Bangladesh and Indonesia – who work for poverty wages, especially in construction.