Malaysian authorities have deported seven asylum seekers to the conflict-torn Indonesian province of Aceh, despite an appeal for a moratorium by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and assurances by the government that there would be no forced returns.
The seven were sent home by boat last Friday across the Straits of Malacca, UNHCR said. The agency was not granted access to the deportees, who had expressed their desire to seek asylum when interviewed two weeks ago.
“The deportation is most unfortunate, particularly coming shortly before a high-level mission from UNHCR which is due to arrive in Kuala Lumpur next Wednesday to discuss ways in which this specific issue can be addressed in a way which meets protection needs,” a spokesman for the agency, Rupert Colville, said Friday at a press briefing in Geneva.
UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers last week appealed to the Malaysian Government for a moratorium against the forced return of asylum seekers to Aceh. The High Commissioner spoke to senior officials of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and expressed serious concerns over persistent reports that preparations were underway to deport some 250 people.
“Prior to Friday’s deportations, Malaysian authorities had made assurances that persons fleeing the conflict in Aceh would not be returned to a situation that could endanger their lives and well-being,” UNHCR stated.
Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, has been caught up in conflict since 1976. UNHCR said there are 8,000 to 9,000 people from Aceh in Malaysia who may be of concern to the agency.
So far this year, several hundred have approached the agency’s office in Kuala Lumpur every week, especially after the ceasefire in Aceh broke down in May. UNHCR has repeatedly urged officials in Malaysia to work with the agency to provide safety in the country.