The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling on the Malaysian authorities to stop forcibly deporting asylum-seekers from Myanmar back to their home country, where agency officials say their lives are at risk.
The U.N. refugee agency says these forced returns from Malaysia have been going on since April. Over the past two months, UNHCR officials report hundreds of Myanmar nationals have been sent back against their will.
UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo says the latest incident occurred on Friday, when Malaysian authorities defied agency efforts and deported an asylum seeker who was being held in detention.
Mantoo says sending people seeking international protection back to Myanmar exposes them to harm and danger.
“The principle of non-refoulment is a cornerstone of international law and is binding on all states,” said Mantoo. “The situation in Myanmar is forcing people to flee to seek safety within the country and across borders… We actually do not have information on what happens to these deportees once they arrive. And that is why we continue to urge they are not sent to Myanmar against their will.”
The UNHCR has registered more than 183,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia. They include nearly 106,000 Rohingya and some 52,000 other people from ethnic groups fleeing conflict and persecution in Myanmar.
Observers say at least 17,500 people are being held in 21 immigration detention centers across the country, including more than 1,500 children. Human Rights Watch reports Malaysia has forcibly returned more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals since April, more than half in the past two months.
Mantoo says the UNHCR does not know why this surge of deportations is happening now. But she notes her agency is very concerned about the humanitarian consequences for people affected by this.
“We are in continuous dialogue and engaging with authorities there on the issue. And this is an ongoing intervention that we are making but I do not really have any more feedback than that. But we are continuing our interventions with the authorities and hope that this will stop.”
The U.N. refugee agency is reiterating its call to other states in the region to continue offering protection to Myanmar nationals fleeing for safety. It also is urging the Malaysian government to end the practice of indefinitely detaining asylum-seekers and refugees from Myanmar.
A recent report by the U.N. human rights office accuses Myanmar’s military leaders of arresting thousands of people and subjecting them to physical abuse, ill-treatment, and torture, sometimes resulting in death.
Myanmar’s military government has not responded to this latest report but has rejected similar reports in the past.