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Malaysian court lifts stay on deporting 114 Myanmar nationals

Amnesty International says group includes children and asylum seekers.

Iskandar Zulkarnain and Iman Muttaqin Yusof for BenarNews 2022.12.13 -- A Malaysian court on Tuesday lifted a stay on the deportation of 114 Myanmar nationals, their lawyer said, as human rights groups expressed concern that they would be forced to return to their conflict-ridden country.

Amnesty International and Access Asylum Malaysia urged the government to reconsider the mass expulsion, saying that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's new administration would look bad if it violated the non-refoulement principle.

Lim Wei Jet, a lawyer appointed by Amnesty for the Myanmar nationals, said they would appeal the Kuala Lumpur High Court's ruling.

"We want to get an early date at the Court of Appeal. I don't know the details of whether the deportation will take place soon. Hopefully not. We have filed appeals to the Court of Appeal and the Home Minister," he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

The group of 114 includes children and people believed to be asylum seekers who are currently under immigration detention, Amnesty Malaysia Executive Director Katrina Maliamauv told BenarNews.

The lawyers for the group are also trying to meet Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution to urge the government to halt the deportation on humanitarian grounds.

BenarNews contacted Saifuddin's office but did not immediately hear back.

The new government has yet to issue a statement about Myanmar, where junta forces have escalated their battle with pro-democracy protesters and ethnic groups since overthrowing an elected government in a military coup on Feb. 1, 2021.

In February last year, the Malaysian government sent back 1,086 Myanmar nationals despite a High Court's interim stay on the deportation of a group of 1,200. The 114 Myanmar nationals remained in Malaysia because they had tested positive for COVID-19.

The director-general of immigration and then-Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin later applied to lift the stay, saying the 114 Myanmar nationals had agreed to be deported.

The rights groups however disputed the alleged consent, claiming that it was not received voluntarily.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. But according to the United Nations, the non-refoulement principle, which protects refugees or asylum seekers from deportation, applies to the country as part of customary international law and is binding on all nations.

Amnesty International and Access Asylum Malaysia said the Malaysian government must "respect human rights and international law and halt any decision to send people back to a violent and dangerous situation."

"This court decision demonstrates how despite international outcry, calls to halt the forcible return of people from Myanmar continue to be ignored," the groups said in a joint statement

"The government is determined to deport people instead of finding solutions that safeguards the rights and security of people from Myanmar and respects the Malaysian government's human rights obligations."

In October, Myanmar's shadow government voiced alarm over reports that military defectors were among 150 Myanmar nationals deported that month from Malaysia. They were among more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals deported since April, Human Rights Watch said in a statement at the time.

Malaysian authorities had arrested six former Myanmar navy officers in September and deported them on Oct. 6, Reuters news service reported. At least four of those who were deported had sought United Nations refugee status in Malaysia, and one officer and his wife were detained upon arrival in Yangon, it said.

Two sources in Malaysia confirmed the deportation of military defectors to BenarNews, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern they could face retribution from the Malaysian government.

Later in October, the then-Home Minister Hamzah said the U.N. and other groups should stop meddling in Malaysia's internal affairs. Kuala Lumpur would take action against any foreigner who violates Malaysian laws, no matter where they were from, he had said.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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