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Dhaka Tribune

UN, US voice concern as Myanmar ships arrive in Malaysia to pick up detainees

Malaysia’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment in this regard

Update : 20 Feb 2021, 11:36 PM

The UN refugee agency said on Saturday at least six people registered with it were among 1,200 Myanmar nationals to be deported by Malaysia next week, while the United States voiced alarm that the plan could put deportees’ lives at risk.

Confirming the planned deportation of six persons of concern registered with it, the UNHCR said it has asked authorities not to send back those in need of international protection.

“We are concerned that there may be others of concern to UNHCR in the group,” Yante Ismail, a spokeswoman of a news agency told via an email. 

Rights groups have asked Malaysia to scrap the deportation, saying it would endanger the deportees. Some of the deportees include people from Myanmar Muslim and Chin communities who arrived in Malaysia fleeing conflict and persecution at home.

The US embassy confirmed that it has raised concerns and echoed calls for UNHCR access to those in immigration detention, according to news sources. 

Malaysia’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment in this regard. 

The Myanmar Embassy in Malaysia did not respond to calls seeking comment. On Saturday the embassy confirmed it would be bringing back the 1,200 people, saying it was prioritizing the repatriation of nationals stranded due to the pandemic.

Three Myanmar-flagged vessels were anchored off Malaysia’s Lumut naval base on Saturday, including one described as a military operations ship, according to ship-tracking website Marine Traffic.

Two Malaysian sources, who requested to be anonymous, confirmed that those ships were sent to pick up the detainees. They are scheduled to leave for Myanmar on Tuesday, as Malaysian sources said.

US and other Western missions in Kuala Lumpur have been trying to discourage Malaysia from proceeding, four other sources with knowledge of the matter said.

“Malaysia is legitimizing the military government by handing over the detainees,” one source said.

Diplomats are also urging Malaysia to let the UNHCR interview the deportees and have expressed concern over Malaysia’s cooperation with the Myanmar junta, the sources further informed.

Malaysia had earlier expressed “serious concern” over the coup.

Coup opponents have been protesting for weeks now. Two people were killed on Saturday when police fired to disseminate protesters.

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