Human rights organizations have introduced a last legal recourse in Malaysia to try to prevent the expulsion on Tuesday (February 23) of 1,200 Burmese migrants to their country of origin where a junta took power in early February. The detained migrants, including members of vulnerable minorities, have been transported to a military base on the west coast of Malaysia, where they are to be loaded onto three ships sent by the Burmese military.
The United States and the UN have criticized the expulsion, and have asked that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) be able to access the prisoners to verify whether some are asylum seekers. According to the UN, at least six people are registered with the UNHCR and must benefit from international protection.
Amnesty International and Asylum Access announced that they filed an appeal on Monday in a Kuala Lumpur court to end the eviction. “This move to prevent deportation is based on information from refugee groups clearly indicating that there are asylum seekers and refugees among those returned to Burma”said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, director of Amnesty International Malaysia.
“The human rights violations committed by the Burmese army against protesters and opponents have been widely documented. If Malaysia insists on returning these 1,200 people, it will take responsibility for exposing them to further persecution, violence and even death ”, she said. However, with the migrants having already arrived at the Lumut base by trucks and buses, escorted by police vehicles, the possibility of enforcing a possible court decision remained uncertain on Tuesday.
The Burmese army seized power in early February, overthrowing the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, which sparked a massive campaign of protests. Malaysia expressed its “Serious concern” after the coup d’etat, but a few days later, there were reports of his agreement for the junta to send warships to recover the detained migrants. Malaysian officials say those deported have committed offenses, such as having expired visas, and that no member of the Rohingya minority is among them.
However, among those expelled are members of the Christian minority and others from Kachin (north) and Shan (east) states, according to Lilianne Fan, international director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, which works with refugees. Malaysia hosts millions of migrants from poorer parts of Asia – including Burma, Bangladesh and Indonesia, who work for pittance, especially in construction.
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