UN experts: Toddlers as young as three among over 1,000 Myanmar nationals deported by Malaysia
An immigration truck carrying Myanmar migrants to be deported from Malaysia is seen in Lumut February 23, 2021. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — A group of United Nations (UN) experts have called out Malaysia for deporting over 1,000 Myanmar nationals which also included minors and toddlers — including a three-year-old — despite a court order halting their return on Tuesday.

The group of experts said they were appalled by Malaysia’s action to deport vulnerable individuals as well as unaccompanied minors which could endanger their lives.

“The Malaysian authorities in defiance of the court order breached the principle of non-refoulement, a rule of jus cogens, which absolutely prohibits the collective deportation of migrants without an objective risk assessment being conducted in each individual case.

“Children should not have been separated from their family, or returned without determining that their return is in their best interests,” they said in a joint statement.

The 1,086 Myanmar citizens were sent back on three navy ships sent by Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a Feb 1 coup, sparking weeks of protests from pro-democracy activists.

The statement further said that the identification process and analysis of the migrants’ individual protection was not adequately carried out.

The migrants have been held in Malaysia’s immigration detention facilities for prolonged periods on grounds of their irregular migration status.

The group said they had written to the Malaysian authorities to express their concerns and urged Putrajaya to observe the absolute prohibition, as they believe the individuals would be at risk of being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

The experts noted that any migrant who is asked to consent to a voluntary return process must be fully and meaningfully informed of their choices, and their consent must be given free of coercion such as the threat of indefinite detention.

The statement was co-signed by Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and also members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, and Seong-Phil Hong.

They make up the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council — the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, who are volunteers and independent from any governments or organisation.

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s Immigration Department Director-gGneral Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud said the repatriated Myanmar citizens did not include Rohingya refugees or asylum-seekers.

He said all of those returned had agreed to be sent back voluntarily, without being forced by any party but did not respond to queries on why the repatriation was carried out, despite the court-ordered halt.

Malaysia initially vowed not to deport Rohingya Muslims or refugees registered with the UNHCR.

But the immigration agency has said at least six people registered with it were among the deportees.

Refugee groups also said asylum seekers from the minority Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya communities fleeing conflict and persecution at home, were among those who were deported.

Just before the ruling on Tuesday, the migrants were bussed in from across the country to the naval base at Lumut in western Malaysia, where the Myanmar ships were docked.