Myanmar’s shadow government and rights groups are voicing alarm over reports that military defectors were among 150 Myanmar nationals deported this month from Malaysia.
Malaysian authorities arrested six former Myanmar navy officers in September and deported them Oct. 6, Reuters reported Wednesday. At least four of those deported sought U.N. refugee status in Malaysia, and one officer and his wife were detained upon arrival in Yangon, it said.
Two sources in Malaysia confirmed the deportation of military defectors to RFA-affiliated media outlet BenarNews, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern they could face retribution from the Malaysian government.
“Yes, it’s true,” they said, while declining to offer further details.
Myanmar’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur had announced that 150 Myanmar nationals “detained under Malaysian immigrant law for a long period of time” were brought back to Myanmar on Oct. 6 on a chartered flight. It did not mention former naval officers.
Another 149 Myanmar nationals were deported on Sept. 22, 2022, according to another notice on the embassy’s Facebook page.
Responding to Wednesday’s reports, Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for Myanmar’s parallel, civilian National Unity Government, called on Malaysia to immediately cease its deportation of those at risk of imprisonment upon their return.
“One branch of Malaysia’s government should not be urging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to act against Myanmar’s junta while another refuses to assist its people,” he told RFA Burmese.
“The government should be acting in unity to support democracy in Myanmar,” he said. “We will continue to engage with Malaysia’s government and call on Kuala Lumpur to stop putting Myanmar’s activists in danger,”
The regular deportations and sending back of military defectors appear sharply at odds with Malaysia’s public stance condemning the 2021 military coup, and the violence Myanmar’s junta has perpetrated on civilians who oppose it.
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has been seen as the region’s most outspoken critic of Myanmar and the biggest ally of the National Unity Government.
Saifuddin was the first ASEAN foreign minister to contact Myanmar’s shadow government, publicly meet with its foreign minister and push for the regional bloc to actively engage with it.
BenarNews contacted multiple government sources about whether former Myanmar military officers were deported on Oct. 6. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it could not verify the report.
The director general of Malaysia’s immigration department replied “no comment,” while Saifuddin and his aide did not reply when BenarNews attempted to contact them.
‘Double standard’ on Myanmar
Speaking to RFA Burmese, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, called Malaysia’s deportation of refugees and asylum seekers to Myanmar “outrageous and unacceptable,” noting that they are likely to be immediately jailed by the junta upon their return.
“The fact that a number of these Navy defectors were sent back, you know, really puts them in serious danger,” he said.
“Our concern is that there is a double standard going on here that on one hand the Malaysian government claims that it cares about the Myanmar people and that it cares about democracy and human rights in Myanmar,” he said. “But then on the other hand other parts of the Malaysian government are working very closely with the military junta.”
He urged the Malaysian government to end its deportation of Myanmar nationals and to allow the U.N. Refugee Office, or UNHCR, access to immigration detention centers so that they can identify those in need of protection.
“The Malaysian government has denied access to UNHCR to go into those areas since August 2019 and that’s unacceptable,” he said.
Robertson also called for third countries to negotiate agreements that would allow some refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar to seek protection elsewhere, if Malaysia is unwilling to take them in.
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