Malaysian official tells UN to stop interfering about Myanmar deportations
Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin said his country would take action against foreigners who violate Malaysia's laws.
Iman Muttaqin Yusof and Nisha David for BenarNews 2022.10.27 -- United Nations organizations and other groups should stop meddling in Malaysia's internal affairs, the country's home minister said Thursday when asked about these agencies criticizing the deportations of Myanmar nationals, including asylum seekers.
Kuala Lumpur would take action against any foreigner who violates Malaysian laws, no matter where they were from, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said.
"So, the UNHCR, United Nations or anyone at all, if the people we detain entered the country legally but then violate our laws, we will then send them back. No need for outsiders to interfere," he told reporters in Kelantan state on Thursday.
Hamzah made the remarks about a week after news broke that Malaysia had deported 150 Myanmar nationals, including defectors from the Burmese military.
The Reuters news agency had reported that the expelled people included six former Myanmar naval officers, who were arrested in September and sent back to Myanmar on Oct. 6. It said at least four of the officers had sought U.N. refugee status in Malaysia and that one officer and his wife were detained upon arrival in Yangon.
They were among more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals deported since April, Human Rights Watch stated in a statement earlier this week.
In defending the government's action, Hamzah said the deportations were based on international law, adding that Malaysia would not deport any foreigner if their life would be put in jeopardy.
"We will not deport people if they will disappear in their own country or if it would oppress them. We do it based on the international law. So, everyone, every Malaysian must understand this," he said.
Hamzah was the only Malaysian government official to respond to the U.N. statements.
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who for months was seen in ASEAN circles as the most outspoken critic of the military regime in post-coup Myanmar and the biggest ally of the National Unity Government, has kept silent on the issue of the deportations.
Saifuddin was the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign minister to contact Myanmar's shadow government, publicly meet with its foreign minister and push for the regional bloc to actively engage with it.
Saifuddin did not attend an emergency meeting of top ASEAN diplomats in Jakarta on Thursday to discuss how to end the Myanmar political crisis and contain widespread violence there.
As of September, more than 183,000 refugees and asylum seekers were registered in Malaysia, according to UNHCR data. Of the total, 157,900 were from Myanmar - 105,870 Rohingya followed by 23,190 Chins and 28,840 from other ethnic groups. The other refugees were from 50 countries where they were escaping prosecutions and wars.
Malaysia is not a signatory of the U.N. 1951 Refugee Convention, but the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country has become the favorite location for people from Myanmar seeking refuge, especially members of its stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.
On Tuesday, UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said her agency was concerned about Malaysia's continued deportation of Myanmar asylum-seekers, placing lives at risk.
"We have received multiple disturbing reports of these forced returns of Myanmar nationals from Malaysia since April this year, including those seeking international protection. In the last two months alone, hundreds of Myanmar nationals are reported to have been sent back against their will by the authorities.
"UNHCR continues to call on Malaysia to immediately stop the forced returns of Myanmar nationals seeking safety from serious harm. Sending them back to Myanmar exposes them to harm and danger," she told reporters at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
"UNHCR appeals to the Malaysian authorities to adhere to their international legal commitments and ensure full respect for the rights of people in need of international protection," she said.
On Wednesday, U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker TÃ¼rk called for a moratorium on the forced return of Myanmar nationals, adding that with the rising levels of violence and instability and the collapse of its economy and social protection systems, it was not the time to send anyone back to Myanmar.
"This is especially the case for anyone with specific protection concerns, such as political activists or military defectors, who are at grave risk upon return," he said in the statement.
Under international law, the principle of non-refoulment says that people can't be sent back to a country where they are likely to be persecuted, tortured, mistreated or have their human rights violated in other ways.
"It is essential that in light of the prevailing situation in Myanmar, now more than ever, that states do not return people to suffering and danger, and provide them with a secure legal status while their country remains in crisis," TÃ¼rk said.
Meanwhile, Migrant Care country representative Alex Ong joined other human rights groups and the U.N. in calling for Malaysia to stop deportations of Myanmar nationals.
"It is not about intervention of Malaysia home affairs, but a joint collaboration to save lives from returning to face the life-threatening oppression," Ong told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service. "Group appeal is to prevent the mass massacres of innocent refugees. It is a purely humanitarian appeal.
"Pushing refugees back to the unsafe situation is like sending them back to be slaughtered," Ong said.
Since its coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the Myanmar junta has been carrying out a widespread campaign of torture, arbitrary arrests and attacks that target civilians, the U.N. and rights groups have said.
Since the coup nearly 2,400 people have been killed and nearly 16,000 have been arrested in Myanmar, according to Thailand's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
BenarNews is an RFA affiliated news service.
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