Rights groups slam move to hand Myanmar refugees

© Provided by Free Malaysia Today A recent news report said Myanmar’s military government has offered to send three navy vessels to take back Myanmar citizens in detention, most of whom are refugees and asylum seekers. (AP pic)

PETALING JAYA: Human rights groups have hit out at the Malaysian government for agreeing to return 1,200 Myanmar nationals in detention centres to their country, now ruled by a military junta.

Speaking to FMT, spokesmen for North-South Initiative and Fortify Rights said Putrajaya should instead protect them.

A recent news report said Myanmar’s military government, which took power through a coup on Feb 1, has offered to send three navy vessels to take back Myanmar citizens in detention, most of whom are refugees and asylum seekers.

“It’s crazy,” said North-South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Adrian Pereira.© Provided by Free Malaysia Today Adrian Pereira.

“What business do we have working with an illegitimate government which was formed through a coup and put all these people at risk?

“Some of them have come here from a violent situation and some are political refugees fleeing the military regime.”

He noted that the military had significant influence over Myanmar’s administration even before the coup.

Minority groups in Myanmar have faced ongoing discrimination and violence, with groups such as the Rohingya subjected to widely condemned atrocities.

Pereira said returning them to the country they had fled from would expose them to the very persecution from which they were seeking refuge.

John Quinley III, a human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, said he had spoken to various refugee groups who had left Myanmar and added that their fears of returning were well founded.

“Many ethnic groups from Myanmar have fled ongoing persecution and violence from the military, which is now in power,” he said.

Jürgen Macho smiling for the camera: John Quinley III.© Provided by Free Malaysia Today John Quinley III.

“Instead of sending Myanmar citizens back after a military takeover, Malaysia should protect them and end its policy of detaining refugees and migrants.”

He said that to send these migrants back would be classified as refoulement under international law, defined as the forced return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to experience abuses.

Pereira said the potential return would run counter to efforts made by the government to portray Malaysia as a nation that respected human rights.

“Malaysia is trying to get a position on the United Nations Human Rights Council and we have made speeches trying to show that we respect human rights,” he said.

“What kind of message does this send? That we are willing to cooperate with an illegitimate government?”

He said Malaysia should be positioning itself in opposition to the Myanmar coup by limiting cooperation with the junta.

Malaysia does not formally recognise refugees or asylum seekers, regarding them as illegal immigrants and placing them in detention centres with others lacking official documents.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 154,000 asylum seekers in Malaysia.

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