Malaysia's immigration department said on Tuesday (Feb 23) it had carried out a repatriation programme involving 1,086 Myanmar nationals, despite an earlier court order staying the deportation.
Department director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said in a statement the returnees were sent back on three Myanmar navy ships and did not include ethnic Rohingya refugees or asylum-seekers.
The Immigration Department director-general said the Myanmar nationals were undocumented migrants. who were detained at department depots nationwide since last year.
"They were deported from the Royal Malaysian Navy's base in Lumut, using Myanmar's three navy vessels.
"All of those deported were Myanmar nationals and not Rohingyas or asylum seekers," he said in a statement on Tuesday (Feb 23).
The Myanmar nationals had agreed to be deported willingly, he added.
"There was no form of forcefulness. They agreed to return to their home country," he said.
Datuk Khairul Dzaimee said the deportation exercise is part of a continuous activity involving those detained at department depots.
"The deportation efforts were slow last year as many countries closed their borders then," he said.
The department through the Home Ministry and Wisma Putra (foreign ministry) will continue to work towards getting the agreements of countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh, in bringing their citizens home, he added.
Earlier, a Malaysian court has allowed a temporary stay of deportation of 1,200 Myanmar detainees who were scheduled to be sent back on Tuesday (Feb 23), according to a lawyer for rights groups that petitioned to stop the deportation.
The stay was granted until 10am on Wednesday morning, when the court will hear the groups' application for judicial review to suspend the deportation, said New Sin Yew, a lawyer for Amnesty International and Asylum Access.
Malaysia had earlier begun bussing asylum seekers and other detainees from Myanmar to a port where ships were waiting to take them back to their strife-torn homeland, even as rights groups made a late legal bid to stop their deportation, saying lives were at risk.
The 1,200 detainees - which include children - were scheduled to leave on Tuesday afternoon in the 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.
Malaysia has said it would not deport Rohingya Muslims or refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
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.
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.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Asylum Access sought a court order on Monday to stop the deportation, saying three people registered with UNHCR and 17 minors who have at least one parent in Malaysia were among the deportees.
"If Malaysia insists on sending back the 1,200 individuals, it would be responsible for putting them at risk of further persecution, violence and even death," Katrina Maliamauv, Amnesty Malaysia director, said on Monday.
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 US 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.
Copyright: The Straits Times/Asia News Network