KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian rights group on Friday condemned the government’s move to deport 150 Myanmar nationals, including six defectors from the Myanmar military who were all arrested upon arrival in their homeland and may face capital punishment.
The Malaysian Advisory Group on Myanmar said the deportation on Oct. 6. was “a breach of the international principle of non-refoulement” as asylum seekers were sent back at risk of their lives and security.
“Six of those deported were defectors from the Myanmar military. They were all arrested upon arrival in Myanmar and are now imprisoned and may face capital punishment,” said the group’s chairman, Syed Hamid Albar, who is also Malaysia’s former Foreign Minister.
Syed Hamid said the deportation was tragic as Malaysia has played a leading role in the region in standing up for human rights in Myanmar.
“The Malaysian government must have a strong and coherent position on Myanmar, aligning our national policies to our foreign policy position,” he said.
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has been vocal about Myanmar’s failure to implement a peace plan under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after the army seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
ASEAN members have blocked Myanmar’s leaders from attending major meetings of the regional grouping. Saifuddin has also openly met with Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government.
Syed Hamid urged Malaysia immediately to halt all further deportations to Myanmar until there are adequate procedures to assess asylum seekers’ claims, regardless of whether they have documents from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. The UNHRC has had no access to immigration centers in the country for years.
“These mechanisms are especially important as asylum seekers currently face long waiting periods before obtaining UNHCR documents, which puts them at high risk of arrest and detention,” he said.
Officials from the Home Ministry couldn’t be immediately reached for comments.
The government had earlier said it planned to take over the management of refugees and shut down the UNHCR office, drawing criticism as Malaysia doesn’t recognize asylum seekers or refugees.
Despite this, the government has allowed a large population to stay on humanitarian grounds. It is home to some 180,000 U.N. refugees and asylum seekers — including more than 100,000 Rohingya and other members of Myanmar ethnic groups.