Human Rights Group Condemns Deportation of Burmese Refugees from Malaysia to Myanmar

10/28/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) issued a statement earlier this week condemning Malaysia’s practice of arresting Burmese refugees and returning them to Myanmar, which is currently controlled by a violent military junta.

Malaysia has deported 178 Chin refugees since the coup in Myanmar, according to CHRO. The Chin are a minority ethnic group in Myanmar who are heavily persecuted for their ethnic and majority-Christian identity. CHRO reported that about 15% of the Chin refugees who were deported had paperwork from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that should have protected them from arrest.

Malaysia was widely criticized for sending 1,086 Burmese refugees back to Myanmar shortly after the coup. Bangladesh also has engaged in the practice intermittently for years despite human rights groups warning that the practice violates international law.

Sending refugees back to Myanmar violates the principle of non-refoulement—a binding requirement of customary international law prohibiting countries from returning refugees to a country where they face significant risk of persecution, torture, or other serious harm.

India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh have all sent refugees back to Myanmar or suggested that they would do so. In one incident, Sunai Phasuk, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, reported that Thai authorities had forced over 2,000 refugees back over the border into Karen State just hours after Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that his country would accept refugees.

The Burmese military, or Tatmadaw, seized the country in February 2021, prompting mass displacement both internally and to surrounding countries. Since the coup, the Tatmadaw has killed over 1,100 innocent civilians and arrested over 7,000.

Many who fled fear retaliation from the Tatmadaw for their roles in protesting the coup. Among the refugees in India, Thailand, and Malaysia—nearby countries currently housing hundreds of thousands of refugees—are members of the military and police who defected after being ordered to shoot protestors.

Refugees from Myanmar face a host of issues, including dangerous living conditions in camps. One refugee camp in southern Bangladesh caught fire earlier this year, displacing more than 45,000 refugees and killing at least eleven.

“Malaysia must stop its practice of returning refugees to Myanmar, where they face extreme danger from the Tatmadaw,” said Jay Church, International Christian Concern’s Advocacy Manager for Southeast Asia. “Returning these refugees shows a wanton disregard for human rights and customary international law. The international community must not lose sight of the bigger picture when pushing for change in Myanmar—sanctioning the Tatmadaw is good and necessary, but we should react equally strongly when allies like India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan break ranks and support the Tatmadaw.”

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