GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) urged Malaysia on Tuesday to stop deporting refugees back to Myanmar, saying it had received reports of hundreds of such cases over the past two months.
The deportations, which included former navy officers seeking asylum, expose those sent away to danger and are a violation of the international law on non-refoulement, according to UNHCR, referring to a law that protects refugees or asylum seekers from being deported.
“In the last two months alone, hundreds of Myanmar nationals are reported to have been sent back against their will by the authorities,” UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told a Geneva press briefing. “People cannot be returned to places where they face threats to their life and liberty and face harm and danger.”
The latest incident involving an asylum seeker being sent back to conflict-torn Myanmar occurred on Oct. 21, Mantoo added, despite intervention by the UNHCR with authorities.
She had no further information on what happened to the deportees upon arrival.
Myanmar’s junta spokesman and Malaysia’s home and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Myanmar’s embassy in Malaysia previously said in a post on Facebook that 150 Myanmar nationals were deported by plane on Oct. 6 in cooperation with Malaysian immigration authorities. It did not mention that the group included former navy officers.
Myanmar has been gripped by fighting since the army overthrew an elected government early last year. Resistance movements, some armed, have emerged across the country, which the military has countered with lethal force.
The junta has arrested thousands of people, including Nobel laureate and deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, along with many bureaucrats, students, journalists and others in an attempt to smother dissent.
So far, more than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including many ethnic Rohingya Muslims, have fled to neighbouring Malaysia.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Bernadette Baum)