LETTER | Govt should not be hasty in deporting Myanmar nationals in detention

Joseph Paul


LETTER | As a citizen of Malaysia and as a human being, I have been following - with great concern - news reports of the imminent plans by the government to deport the Myanmar nationals currently in immigration detention camps. 

I understand that the (illegal) government of Myanmar has sent ships to ferry back the detainees

I have no issues with deporting persons who have come into our country illegally, on their own volition, provided that they are not asylum seekers fleeing persecution or victims of human trafficking. 

Unfortunately, as the government itself will no doubt be aware, the management of the recruitment process of migrant workers in Malaysia is riddled with questionable practices which suggest a high degree of corruption. 

As a consequence, it is more than likely that there are many in the immigration detention camps who are in fact asylum seekers, refugees as well as victims of traffickers who should not be there. 

We can confidently state this based on the experiences of Tenaganita in handling cases of migrant workers and refugees. The recent report of the Public Accounts Committee (Nov 20, 2020) further confirms our fears.

I urge the government to immediately halt the planned deportation until all reasonable measures have been taken to ensure that not a single person who has a legitimate reason not to be deported, is sent back to Myanmar. 

As a way forward, I would ask the government to take the following steps before proceeding with the deportation if it is at all necessary:

  1. Provide UNHCR immediate access to all the detention centres to identify any refugees and other asylum seekers and ensure that they are removed from the detention centres. In fact, the Immigration Department should also explain why UNHCR has not been allowed access to detention centres for more than a year.

  2. Provide an opportunity for all detainees who have grounds to challenge their detention, eg victims of unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers, victims of human traffickers, corrupt officials etc to get an impartial hearing. Obviously, the hearing should not be conducted by the Immigration Department which detained them in the first place, but by independent bodies such as Suhakam and perhaps with the collaboration of reputable NGOs which have been working on migrant and refugee issues.

  3. Put a moratorium on the deportation exercise until the political situation in Myanmar is more settled and allows for confidence that the deportees would not be subjected to persecution. This cannot happen as long as the present illegitimate government in Myanmar - which has not been recognised by Malaysia and which is facing severe criticism by its citizens as well as by the international community - is still in power.

As a member of Asean and as a signatory to the Asean Declaration on Human Rights 2012, it is imperative that Malaysia provides leadership and a good example as a nation that walks the talk. 

Failure to do so will only further damage Malaysia's reputation in the international community. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.