KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Reuters) - A Malaysian court has allowed a temporary stay of deportation of 1,200 Myanmar nationals scheduled to be sent back to their strife-torn homeland on Tuesday, after rights groups petitioned to say deportation could endanger their lives.
The 1,200 detainees were set to leave on Tuesday afternoon in three navy ships sent by Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, sparking weeks of protests from pro-democracy activists.
Refugee groups say asylum seekers from the minority Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya Muslim communities fleeing conflict and persecution at home are among those being deported.
Amnesty International, which along with Asylum Access had asked the courts to stop the deportation, said the high court granted a stay until 10 a.m. Wednesday, when it will hear the groups’ application for judicial review to suspend the deportation.
“In light of the court ruling, the government must respect the court order and ensure that not one of the 1,200 individuals is deported today,” Katrina Maliamauv, Amnesty Malaysia director, said in a statement.
Amnesty has said among the deportees were three people registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 17 minors who have at least one parent in Malaysia.
Malaysia has said it would not deport Rohingya Muslims or refugees registered with the UNHCR.
But the UN refugee agency has said there are at least six people registered with it that are also set to be deported and that there could be more. It has not been allowed access to the deportees.
Earlier on Tuesday, buses and immigration department trucks were seen taking the detainees to the western Malaysian port of Lumut, where the Myanmar ships are docked at a naval base.
Malaysia has not responded publicly to critics or Reuters queries over the deportation of the asylum seekers and those registered with the UNHCR.
Concerns over deportation of unregistered asylum-seekers also persist as the UNHCR has not been allowed to interview detainees for over a year to verify their status, amid a crackdown on undocumented migrants in Malaysia.
The United States and other Western missions have been trying to dissuade Malaysia from proceeding with the deportation and urged the government to allow the UNHCR to interview the detainees. They also say Malaysia is legitimising the military government by cooperating with the junta.
Reporting by Lim Huey Teng in Lumut, A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Ed Davies, Simon Cameron-Moore and Jacqueline Wong -- Reuters