Plea against Myanmar’s repatriation programme on refugees, asylum seekers

PRIME Minister Muhyiddin Yassin,

We are deeply concerned over the government’s approval and involvement in the current repatriation programme with the Myanmar military.

Since earlier this month, Myanmar has been under a military coup, and marred by increasing human rights violations. It is shocking to find out those who are set to be deported potentially includes asylum seekers, nearly 100 of them, not sparing even children.

These are the people who chose Malaysia, who put their faith and trust in us to safeguard their lives and fundamental rights. Are we to send them back into the lion’s den?

YAB, Malaysia may not be a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its Protocol, but Malaysia remains a Muslim and democratic country that subscribes to the ideals of human rights and human security. As Muslims, we are guided by the principles of Maqasid al-Syariah, where the essence is to uplift human dignity.

We are now at the juncture where our next action would be the defining moment that showcase not just to our people, but also the international community, the values, and the standards that Malaysia upholds.

We believe Malaysia must do better.

It is also shocking to know that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been denied access to immigration detention centres since August 2019. Their inability to visit detention centres has rendered them unable to identify asylum seekers and refugees, and facilitate their release accordingly. This arbitrary and indefinite detention of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are in violation of international human rights law.

To simply return these asylum seekers, refugees, or anyone whose life is under threat would not wash our hands off this violation either.

In fact, it is also a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which applies to Malaysia as part of customary international law. This move would signal Malaysia’s lack of regard to international laws. We both believe that is not true.

YAB, what can we do about it?

We believe your office can instruct the immigration department to work closely with UNHCR to ensure not a single person seeking asylum, refugee or anyone who may be at risk of human rights violations is forced to return to Myanmar. Let them identify these individuals and grant them their rights accordingly.

We plead to you and your government’s humanity to not deport these refugees yet, be it the Rohingyas or anyone whose life, security and dignity would be threatened should they be returned. When these fundamental liberties are at a threat, there is no trade-off, YAB.

In the words of Warsan Shire, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”.

They seek asylum from us because we are the safest choice they have. When humanity is facing a life-threatening situation, we should drop the labels and protect their dignity.

If we can’t be the heaven they seek, let us not return them to the fire they escaped. – February 22, 2021.

* Abdul Razak Ahmad, Aini Cellini Basrihuddin, Amirun Hamman Azram and Muhamad Hilmy Mohd Yazid are part of NAHEL Endowment for Peace.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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