İrem UZUN -TDO- Malaysia has returned 1,086 migrants from Myanmar in defiance of a court order and appeals from human rights groups to halt the process. The Myanmar nationals were bused in from around the country and loaded onto three navy ships sent to retrieve them by Myanmar's ruling junta, which seized power in a coup earlier this month.
Rights organizations say the group includes some ethnic minorities which have suffered persecution in Myanmar. They say sending them back to Myanmar, which is in the midst of a coup, could put them at even greater risk. However, Malaysia has said those being sent back committed immigration offences and are not asylum seekers. "All of those returned had agreed to be sent back voluntarily without being forced by any party," Khairul Dzaimee Daud, Malaysia's director-general of immigration, said in a statement.
Daud added that those being repatriated did not include Rohingya refugees or asylum-seekers, echoing an earlier statement by Malaysia that it would not deport those registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, authorities have blocked the UNHCR from accessing immigration detention centers in Malaysia for more than a year, according to reports - which means the UN is unable to confirm Daud's statement.
The Malaysian government should urgently investigate the Immigration Department’s return of Myanmar nationals, Human Rights Watch said. “Malaysia’s immigration authorities have shown a blatant disregard both for the basic rights of Myanmar nationals and an order by the Malaysian High Court,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor of the group.