By Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi | Reuters
Malaysia deported 150 Myanmar nationals this month, including former navy officers seeking asylum, and plans to send back more despite the risk of arrest they face at home, four sources familiar with the matter said.
The deportations come despite Malaysia’s condemnation of violence in Myanmar since the military ousted an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi last year and cracked down on dissent.
Malaysian authorities arrested six former navy officers last month and deported them by plane on Oct. 6, the sources told Reuters, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
At least one officer, Kyaw Hla, and his wife, Htay Htay Yee, were detained upon arrival back in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, the sources said. Reuters could not establish why they were held in Yangon.
The two were deported from Malaysia for failing to hold valid documents to reside in the country, the sources said.
At least three of the former officers and Htay Htay Yee had sought protection from the U.N. refugee agency and had applied for a card that would identify them as refugees, the sources said.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling military did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
Myanmar’s embassy in Malaysia said in a post on Facebook that 150 Myanmar nationals were deported by plane on Oct. 6 in cooperation with Malaysian immigration authorities. It did not mention that the group included former navy officers.
Malaysia’s immigration department, the foreign ministry and Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did not say whether it had received asylum applications from those deported but said it was “gravely concerned” by the deportations.
“Not only in Malaysia but in the region, people fleeing Myanmar must be allowed access to territory to seek asylum and be protected against refoulement,” it said in a statement to Reuters.
“People from Myanmar, already abroad, should not be forced to return when seeking international protection.”
The agency did not comment on dangers faced by Myanmar nationals deported back home.
Myanmar has been in crisis since the coup whipped up widespread opposition to the return of military rule after a decade of tentative democratic reforms.
The junta has arrested thousands of people including Suu Kyi and many colleagues, bureaucrats, students, and journalists in an attempt to smother dissent.
Malaysia is home to more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fleeing crackdown at home. But recently, Malaysia has been deporting more people from Myanmar due to a tougher policy on refugees and migrants.
But the deportations highlight what Malaysian government critics see as a contradictory stand after unprecedented Malaysian condemnation of Myanmar’s military, in a departure from a regional convention of not criticising fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah condemned Myanmar’s execution in July of four pro-democracy activists as a crime against humanity that made a mockery of an ASEAN peace effort.
He has urged Southeast Asian countries to engage with the Myanmar opposition and called on ASEAN to “buck up” efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and promote a Myanmar peace process.
Malaysian opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago said the government should stop deportations and adopt a consistent policy on Myanmar based on human rights and democracy.
“Sending Myanmar refugees to a country where they will likely be jailed, probably tortured, and possibly killed by a criminal junta makes the Malaysian authorities complicit in those crimes,” he told Reuters.
Despite such criticism, Malaysia is planning to deport more Myanmar nationals, according to community leaders who said they were briefed by authorities on planned deportations. They declined to be identified.
One man has mounted a legal challenge against his detention and possible deportation, according to his lawyer, New Sin Yew.
New told Reuters the man had been involved in the Myanmar civil disobedience movement, had sought asylum in Malaysia, and applied for UNHCR protection.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court has ordered a temporary stay on the man’s deportation, pending a hearing on Thursday.