Malaysia deports Myanmar nationals despite court order
LUMUT, Feb 23: Malaysia on Tuesday deported over 1,000 Myanmar detainees back to their homeland just weeks after a coup, despite a court order halting the repatriation and a storm of criticism from rights groups.
The migrants were ferried on buses and trucks to a military base on Malaysia's west coast where three Myanmar navy ships had docked.
The United States and the United Nations had criticised the plan, while rights groups said there were asylum seekers among the group.
Hours before the deportation, a Kuala Lumpur court ordered it should be temporarily halted to allow activists to present a legal challenge.
They argued it should not go ahead as Malaysia would breach its international duties if it deported vulnerable people, and that the Myanmar military's seizure of power meant they were at even greater risk.
But the vessels later set sail carrying 1,086 of the detainees, with authorities offering no explanation as to why the court order had been ignored.
Malaysian immigration chief Khairul Dzaimee Daud offered assurances no members of the persecuted Rohingya minority -- not recognised as citizens in Myanmar -- or asylum seekers had been deported.
"All of those who have been deported agreed to return of their own free will, without being forced," he said.
Those deported had been held in immigration detention centres since 2020, he said.
Authorities earlier said 1,200 detainees were to be deported, and it was not clear why the final number was lower.
Officials insist those sent back had committed offences such as overstaying their visas, and the deportation was part of their regular programme of repatriating migrants from poorer parts of Asia. -AFP