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Malaysia's immigration department deported 1,086 migrants back to Myanmar on 23 Feb. 2021 Malaysia's immigration department deported 1,086 migrants back to Myanmar on 23 Feb. 2021  (AFP or licensors)

Malaysian bishops oppose deportation of Myanmar refugees

Catholic leaders in Malaysia recall that refugees, migrants and asylum seekers are vulnerable people, and that they should be treated with humanity, based on mercy, compassion and love.

By Robin Gomes

“At a time of grave political uncertainty in Myanmar, our faith tells us that we cannot remain silent and be complicit to this action towards those who have fled due to a grave humanitarian crisis,” the Bishops of Malaysia said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The statement, signed by the Bishops of the country’s 9 dioceses, expressed their deep concern, after learning from media reports about Malaysia’s plan to repatriate 1,200 Myanmar nationals, among them also refugees and asylum seekers. 

Laws of humanity

“The Malaysian bishops pointed out that guaranteeing personal security to the most vulnerable refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, “must not only be governed by international laws but also by the 'laws of humanity’, which are grounded on mercy, compassion and love”.

Not long after the Bishops raised their voice and Kuala Lumpur’s High Court ordered a temporary halt to the deportation, Malaysia's immigration department repatriated 1,086 Myanmar nationals. They were deported in 3 Myanmar navy ships, the department said, insisting there were no refugees or asylum seekers among them.

In their lawsuit that made the High Court issue the stay order, rights groups Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia said there were refugees, asylum-seekers and minors among the deported.  According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, at least six people among the deported were registered with it. The two rights groups named at least three UNHCR cardholders and 17 minors with one parent still in Malaysia.

Myanmar’s uncertain times

The Bishops urged the government not to “subject the lives of these Myanmar nationals into an uncertain and unknown fate by simply repatriating them in these uncertain times.”  They called for international organizations, such as the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, to verify these individuals so that their personal security can be guaranteed.  “As caring Malaysians,” they said, “we should not subject anyone to situations that are marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.”

Malaysian lawmakers and rights groups on Wednesday demanded that the government explain why it violated the court stay order and deported the migrants, saying it put their lives in danger following Myanmar's military coup. 

Malaysian Church close to Myanmar 

The Malaysian Bishops called on the faithful to offer their fast during the current season of Lent for the people of Myanmar, so that there be a “genuine dialogue among all sides” and that there be “lasting peace and freedom” in the troubled land. 

While expressing their prayerful solidarity with the people of Myanmar, they invoked “God for peace, reconciliation and harmony in these uncertain times.”

Malaysian Christian Churches

The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) has also raised its voice against the deportation, saying it was an “act contrary to international law and norms”.

In a press release, CCM general-secretary Hermen Shastri said, “The prime minister should grant UNHCR full access to detention centres to identify refugees and asylum seekers, and ensure their protection and safety.”

He added that those whose lives were being threatened should not be forced to return to any country where they may face persecution or even death.

24 February 2021, 15:24