13 May 2015
Malaysia must not deport refugees arriving by boats or turn them away at sea
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern recent reports of hundreds and even thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants who have arrived by boats on Malaysian shores or who were still stranded at sea.
We are further shocked to learn that the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency had said that it would turn away “seaworthy” boats carrying these people when clearly such an act would be extremely dangerous and irresponsible, and certainly in breach of international law.
These boats carrying overcrowded refugees and migrants are typically rickety wooden trawlers and hardly seaworthy. Turning or towing these boats away is as good as signing their death warrant as the occupants are normally starving, dehydrated, sickly and in dire need of immediate assistance.
We urge the Malaysian government not to act hastily, keep our borders open and help rescue those stranded until more information can be ascertained as to why these people left Myanmar and Bangladesh including whether they are refugees who are entitled to international protection.
It is well known the Rohingya are refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Any deportation would be inhumane and cruel as they have been systematically persecuted in their homeland and remain one of the most vulnerable communities in the world.
They are stripped off their citizenship thus making them legally stateless and subjected to all kinds of serious discriminatory practices including on movement, marriage, birth, education, health care, employment, civil documentation and subjected to arbitrary detention, violence and forced labour.
Even though Malaysia is not a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Malaysia is still bound by international law not to forcibly deport refugees or cause them further harm as normally, those who were returned face severe persecution, including arrest, disappearance and torture.
Further, as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, there are added international obligations to ensure the safety and well-being of the women and children detained, and by forcibly deporting them, Malaysia would certainly be in breach of both conventions.
In order to assess whether these men, women and children are refugees fleeing persecution, our immigration authorities must grant them immediate access to UNHCR so they may seek asylum and have their refugee status determined.
While Malaysia as a sovereign state has every right to safeguard its borders against unlawful entries, our immigration laws and policies are seriously lacking in terms of international standards as they fail to distinguish between refugees fleeing persecution and other types of undocumented migrants.
Lawyers for Liberty
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