Hours earlier, the Malaysian High Court granted a day’s stay permit for some 1,200 Myanmar migrants to appeal Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia can be heard in court.
The appeal said there were those who were deported refugees, asylum seekers, and minors.
But the head of the Malaysian Immigration Department Khairul Dzaimee Daud said in a statement that the migrants had returned to Myanmar of their own accord on three naval vessels.
“All of them agreed to return home voluntarily without any coercion from anyone,” said Khairul.
He added that all of the migrants were Myanmar nationals and not a single Rohingya Muslim refugee or asylum seeker, human rights groups say.
The statement made no mention of the court order and also explained why only 1,086 had returned, not 1,200.
“With regard to court decisions, the government must respect the courts, and ensure that none of the 1200 people are deported today. They face threats to their safety,” said Amnesty International Malaysia Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv.
Amnesty said the court would hear their appeal on Wednesday (24/2/2021) and urged the Malaysian government to consider plans to repatriate migrants following the ongoing protests in Myanmar.
The Immigration Department stated that those who were repatriated had been involved in various violations, including not having travel documents, visa validity expired, and violations of the use of short-term social visas.
However, according to human rights groups in their appeal, among those who were sent home there were three people who had registered with the United Nations Affairs Agency Refugees (UNHCR) and 17 minors with one of their parents still in Malaysia.
In a separate statement, UNHCR said at least six people were on the list to be deported.
A group of 27 Malaysian parliament members and senators also sent a letter to the Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin | on Sunday (21/2/2021) urged that the deportation be postponed.
There has been no official reply from the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office.
Malaysia does not recognize refugee or asylum seeker status but does allow large numbers of people to live in the country for humanitarian reasons.
There are 180,000 UN refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, including around 100,000 Rohingya and other ethnic groups of Myanmar origin.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017, when the military launched operations following attacks from rebel groups.
Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rape, murder and burning of thousands of homes.