An immigration truck carrying Myanmar migrants heads toward the Malaysian naval base in Lumut near Kuala Lumpur before their deportation on Feb. 23. (Photo: AFP)
Catholic bishops in Malaysia have urged the government to show humanity and refrain from deporting hundreds of Myanmar nationals including refugees and asylum seekers.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia (CBCM) said the Church has been concerned about the fate of Myanmar nationals since local and international media reported the Malaysian government’s plan.
“It has been recently reported in several local and international media sources that Malaysia is about to repatriate 1,200 Myanmar nationals from our shores, and amongst them are also refugees and asylum seekers. At a time of grave political uncertainty in Myanmar, our faith tells us that we cannot remain silent and be complicit to this action towards those who have fled due to a grave humanitarian crisis,” the CBCM said in a statement on Feb. 23.
“Guaranteeing personal security to the most vulnerable refugees, migrants and asylum seekers must not only be governed by international laws but also by the laws of humanity, which are grounded on mercy, compassion and love.”
The bishops pointed out that the Church is compassionate about the plight of refugees. In his recent encyclical Fratelli tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship), Pope Francis reminded the Church that all of us are part of a larger human family and that our human fraternity “transcends the barriers of geography and distance.”
In a spirit of fraternal love, the Church cannot turn a blind eye to those in need and the vulnerable irrespective of who they are and where they come from, especially in times of a crisis, they added.
In this season of Lent, the sacrifices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving must move us beyond individualistic Lenten practices towards cultivating a love and compassion for one another that excludes no one and is open to all, the bishops said.
The bishops called on the Malaysian government to not subject the lives of these Myanmar nationals to an uncertain and unknown fate by simply repatriating them in these uncertain times.
“We also ask that an international organization such as the UNHCR be allowed to verify these individuals so that their personal security can be guaranteed. As caring Malaysians, we should not subject anyone to situations that are marked by fear, uncertainty and unease,” the statement said.
The deportation comes amid a military coup that ousted Myanmar’s elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and a tumultuous political situation amid widespread anti-coup protests.
Earlier this month, Myanmar’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur wrote to Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry with a request that "1,200 undocumented Myanmar nationals" be repatriated on three navy ships. The ships were set to depart Malaysian shores on Feb. 23.
Khairul Dzaimee Daud, Malaysia’s director-general of Immigration affairs, reportedly agreed to the request.
The deportation comes after months of anti-immigrant sentiments allegedly stoked by Myanmar government officials who blamed migrant workers as well as persecuted Rohingya asylum seekers for the spread of coronavirus in the country.
Since last year, anti-immigrant raids have seen hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers in Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia arrested. Hundreds of undocumented migrants were put into 12 overcrowded detention centers and many of them were from Myanmar.
Global rights watchdogs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International criticized the crackdown.
"Adults and children in Malaysia who lack adequate legal documentation, including refugees, are subject to arrest and detention," Human Rights Watch said.
Amnesty International decried the decision to deport refugees and asylum seekers.
"The Malaysian government is recklessly imperiling the lives of over 1,000 Myanmar people by deporting them under a curtain of secrecy to a country in the middle of a coup marred by human rights violations," Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, said in a statement.