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UN independent experts ‘appalled’ by deportation of migrants to Myanmar, in defiance of court order

A food market in Kelantan, Malaysia.
Unsplash/Alex Hudson
A food market in Kelantan, Malaysia.

UN independent experts ‘appalled’ by deportation of migrants to Myanmar, in defiance of court order

Human Rights

Independent UN human rights experts castigated Malaysia on Wednesday over its decision to deport more than1,000 detained migrants back to crisis-ridden Myanmar – despite a court order to suspend their return, pending a judicial review. 

Malaysian immigration authorities returned 1,086 migrants, including unaccompanied minors and toddlers as young as three, the UN experts said in a statement on Wednesday. 

In defiance of the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s order, the Malaysian authorities “breached the principle of non-refoulement, a rule of jus cogens, which absolutely prohibits the collective deportation of migrants without an objective risk assessment being conducted in each individual case”, they said.  

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“Children should not have been separated from their family or returned without determining that their return is in their best interests”, they insisted. 

Unwelcome return 

Following a coup d’état in Myanmar on 1 February, which was followed by the military’s systematic violation of fundamental rights and freedoms, the UN experts expressed concern for the rights those returning. 

They upheld that identification processing and analysis of the migrants’ individual protection needs had not been adequately carried out. 

On grounds of their irregular migration status, the migrants had been held in Malaysia’s immigration detention facilities for prolonged periods.  

The Myanmar military regime had offered to send three navy ships to transport a total of 1,200 migrants. 

Concern over violations 

The UN experts raised their concerns in a letter to the Malaysian authorities, urging the absolute prohibition of refoulement to prevent the likely persecution of the returnees. 

They reminded that States are obliged not to repatriate a person to a country where there are substantial grounds to believe that he or she may be the victim of serious human rights violations. 

“The failure to ensure due process safeguards for all migrants, including through case-by-case risk assessments and adequate protection measures on an individual basis, heightened their vulnerabilities and risk of exploitation and other violations upon return”, they said.  

The experts also stressed that any migrant asked to be voluntarily returned must be “fully and meaningfully” informed of their choices and that their consent must be given “free of coercion”, including the threat of indefinite detention. 

The UN experts are encouraging the Malaysian authorities to conduct an adequate assessment of the remaining migrants and accord them the necessary protection, as required. 

They also said that they would continue to closely monitor the situation. 

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. Their positions are honorary, they are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

Click here for the UN experts who signed this statement.