Malaysia is at risk of breach of international laws if it continues to deport refugees and asylum seekers
29 October 2022
We refer to the statement by the Home Minister, Hamzah Zainuddin, yesterday where he told UNCHR and human rights group not to interfere in Malaysia’s affairs in deporting Myanmar nationals back to their home country.
The Home Minister’s remark entirely ignores the real concerns raised by UNHCR regarding the deportation of Myanmar nationals. The issue that was raised was specific to the deportation of asylum seekers from Myanmar, an act that puts their lives in jeopardy.
It is shocking that the Home Minister does not grasp the basic concept that asylum seekers and refugees are people who escaped their home country for fear of persecution, human rights violation or genocide by their own government. They do not do so willingly but rather from desperation based on a very real threat of harm to their wellbeing.
Hence, UNHCR, a body tasked for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, would intervene when there are any actions taken by any government that would cause serious harm to them. It is not an act of intervening with the local affairs or to limit the powers of the government to protect its borders, as the Home Minister has claimed.
Despite assurances that the government would not send back anyone who would ‘disappear’ in their origin country, there has been no evidence that there was any checking process conducted to ensure that asylum seekers and genuine refugees are not deported back to their home country. In fact, past conduct would indicate that there is no such system in place, as evidenced by the debacle of the mass deportation of over 1,000 Myanmar nationals back to their country despite the ongoing coup at the time which put them in extreme danger.
We remind the government that it is bound by international law principle of ‘non-refoulement’ to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are not deported if there is a risk of persecution, torture, cruel and inhumane treatment if they are returned to their home country. The government should take heed when bodies such as UNHCR raises such concerns as it is in fact in the interest of our country to not violate international laws which may bring about adverse consequences to us.
Furthermore, as Malaysia is part of the United Nations Human Rights Council, there is an obligation for it to uphold international human rights principles in its own country. They cannot hide behind supposed violation of local laws to deport asylum seekers and refugees in total disregard of international laws and human rights concerns.
Therefore, we urge the government to halt all acts of deportation of Myanmar nationals who qualify for refugee or asylum-seeker status. The government must allow UNHCR free access to the migrants for them to assess their status to ensure that Malaysia does not breach the principle of non-refoulement.
Lawyers for Liberty