Malaysia: “Heinous” plan to send Rohingya people back to sea

20 June 2020, 00:00 UTC |

Responding to reports that the Malaysian authorities are planning to send 269 Rohingya people back into exile on dangerous open waters after they had landed on the island of Langkawi, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Refugee and Migrant Rights, Anna Shea, said:

“It is heinous to think that you could allow hundreds of people to seek shelter in Malaysia after a deadly journey, only to make them repeat their ordeal. These people had already drifted for months with nowhere to land – how could Malaysia force them back into this life-threatening situation?

It is heinous to think that you could allow hundreds of people to seek shelter in Malaysia after a deadly journey, only to make them repeat their ordeal. 

Anna Shea, Refugee & Migrants Rights Researcher

“The Malaysian authorities themselves acknowledged that at least one person on the boat had not survived, and that many of the people who landed could barely walk. This is an unprecedented and dangerous situation. It will not be accepted by the international community.

“Not only would such a move breach the most basic principles of international law, if the boat subsequently managed to land in another country irregularly, it could potentially contravene Malaysia’s own law banning the smuggling of migrants.

Not only would such a move breach the most basic principles of international law, if the boat subsequently managed to land in another country irregularly, it could potentially contravene Malaysia’s own law banning the smuggling of migrants. 

Anna Shea

“The government did the correct and humane thing when it allowed hundreds of women and men from another boat to disembark in early June. Instead of levelling threats against desperate people, Malaysia should resolve this issue with its regional partners in dialogue through the Bali Process, which was designed to protect people from the harms of human trafficking. Today’s news is a new low, which shows just how urgent a regional solution has become.”

Background

On 18 June 2020, two security sources told media that the Malaysian authorities were planning to send back 269 Rohingya people whom they had disembarked on 8 June 2020, after finding that their boat was damaged and could not be sent back to sea.

At the time authorities stated that they found the body of a woman on board, and that many of the survivors could barely walk after a long time at sea. Further reports have indicated that other people on board died during the journey. Authorities were reported to state that the boat would be repaired and provisioned before being sent out to sea, although it was not clear if they would be responsible for doing so.

Under Malaysian law, “smuggling of migrants” means “(a) arranging, facilitating or organizing, directly or indirectly, a person’s unlawful entry into or through, or unlawful exit from, any country of which the person is not a citizen or permanent resident either knowing or having reason to believe that the person’s entry or exit is unlawful; and (b) recruiting, conveying, transferring, concealing, harbouring or providing any other assistance or service for the purpose of carrying out the acts referred to in paragraph (a).”

Since 8 June, the Malaysian coast guard chief claims to have pushed another boat back. The boat was alleged to be in Thai waters, but the Thai Navy reported that they had not located a boat.

Crimes against humanity continue against the estimated 600,000 Rohingya still living in Rakhine State, Myanmar. And after several waves of brutal military operations in 2016 and 2017 which forced them to flee, nearly 1 million Rohingya live in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival.

International law imposes obligations on states to protect the human rights of refugees arriving on their shores.

The principle of non-refoulement obliges states not to return anyone to a place where they would be at risk of persecution or serious human rights violations. The principle is the cornerstone of international refugee protection and is fundamental to the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Malaysia and Thailand are not parties to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) or its 1967 Protocol. However, the principle of non-refoulement is also protected under general international human rights law, as well as customary international law, which is binding on all states without exception. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration also enshrines the right to “seek and receive asylum.” Moreover, the ban on collective expulsion is implicit in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a state party.