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Malaysia finally announced on Tuesday the deportation to Burma of more than a thousand migrants despite a judgment ordering it to suspend this transfer criticized by the international community and NGOs, three weeks after the coup Three Burmese army boats picked them up For Burmese refugees in Kuala Lumpur, angst and despair dominate
James Bawi Thang Bik is an exception among his family: at the head of the Chin Refugee Alliance, he is one of the few in his community who is not afraid to speak out The 27-year-old young man with still childish features is therefore the spokesperson for this Christian ethnic minority persecuted in Burma and exiled in Malaysia. For the past week, he has also received phone calls from Chin about to be handed over to the military junta which has persecuted him for decades. There are at least nine, but it is difficult to know their exact number, because neither the press, nor UN officials, nor NGOs can access the detention centers and meet these 1,200 men and women. The only certainty for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is that at least three people registered with the UNHCR to request asylum or obtain refugee status are among them, as well as seventeen minors with at least one parent with them in Malaysia
For James Bawi Thang Bik, the situation of all these men and women is simply nightmarish: “In some detention centers, immigration has given them the right to make a phone call to contact their families, but Chin I was able to talk to have no more families so they called me, he reportsSome of them have been in detention for a year so they don’t know what’s going on in Burma.It was I who told them that there had been a coup, that the military junta was in power now, and they said to me: we really prefer to stay in prison here in this case Because they know well what the military are capable of, they grew up under martial law, they come from a region of Chin State where there are armed conflicts, their villages have been destroyed, so if they return , where will they go? “
Since the coup in Burma, James’s phone has not stopped ringing, journalists, NGOs defending refugees are asking, but also his entire community extremely worried “If these boats leave, they will be the first in a long series,” he fears This is not the first time that Chin exiles have been forced to return to their homeland, he recalls, but the scale of this operation is unprecedented It is also the first time that the Burmese junta has offered its aid to Malaysia
But if it turns out that some expelled people have the card issued by the UNHCR attesting to their refugee status, Malaysia would not be illegal, because the country has not signed the Refugee Convention of 1951 recognizing the rights of these people, but this would be contrary to its commitments: the Immigration authorities have committed in a statement not to deport refugees on Tuesday, February 23, 2021
For James, sending men and women back to Burma today, especially if they belong to ethnic minorities, is also to make them sink into oblivion, because once back in Burma, it is very difficult for the Chin community in Kuala Lumpur to know what is happening to their family: “Last year, one of them was arrested when he arrived in Burma There is no shortage of charges, returning refugees can be arrested for treason to the homeland, for crossing a border illegally from Burma”
The refugee community is not alone in worrying about these forced returns in these times of pandemic and great political uncertainties: twenty-seven Malaysian parliamentarians have called on the government to cancel this mass deportation, instead urging to unite the ASEAN countries to regionally condemn the coup which violates the principles and charter of the regional organization to which Burma belongs On February 1, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry had already expressed “serious concern” over the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and the military putsch, before, a few days later, collaborating with the Burmese junta to expel them. 1,200 people
For Maria Chin Abdullah, MP for Petaling Jaya, these two positions are “totally contradictory” If the MP wants the UNHCR to have access to the detention centers where these men and women are located so that their situation is better known, she nevertheless assures that “none of them should be expelled given the current political context Indonesia called on all ASEAN countries to start a consultation with the junta to ask for an explanation, this kind of initiative should be encouraged”The parliamentarian, known for these pro-democratic positions which notably earned her eleven days of imprisonment in 2016, finally recalls that” the Malaysian economy is dependent on foreign labor, whether on construction sites or in the plantations So migrants in general should be treated much better than that”
Tuesday, February 23 in the morning of the buses had been photographed leaving the detention centers for the military base of Lumut where the Burmese ships are located Amnesty International and another NGO have taken legal action to try to prevent the deportation in extremisA reprieve of a few hours has so far been granted to await the verdict of the NGO-initiated court hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
But a few hours later, at the end of the afternoon, Malaysian immigration officials said via a press release that 1086 people were already at sea, heading for Burma, despite the court ruling calling for a suspension of the operation until Wednesday morningIn its press release, Immigration assures that no Rohingya or asylum seekers have been expelledAn assertion that could not be verified by the UNHCR, the only actor present in Malaysia capable of determining and issuing the status of refugees or asylum seekers
James refuses to be discouraged The one who arrived as a minor in Malaysia says he is thinking of the children of his community for this In the Refugee Alliance school that day, young Chin people recite the alphabet in English. “Perhaps a future great leader of our ethnic group is among them”, he finds himself dreaming
Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia
News – EN – What fate for the thousand Burmese expelled from Malaysia?