ASEAN Countries Must End Forced Returns of Refugees to Junta-Ruled Myanmar: UN Envoy

By The Irrawaddy 26 October 2022

The United Nations special envoy has urged Southeast Asian countries to end forced returns of Myanmar nationals fleeing for safety and develop a joint regional framework for refugee protection.

Noeleen Heyzer, the secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar, told the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on October 25 that the recent forced return of Myanmar nationals underlines the urgent need for a coordinated ASEAN response to address shared regional challenges caused by the conflict.

She called on ASEAN countries to urgently discuss development of a framework for refugee protection that respects the principle of non-refoulement, protects human rights and serves regional shared interests, ahead of the ASEAN Summit in November.

The UN envoy also strongly condemned recent attacks including the junta’s deadly airstrike at the weekend that killed more than 60 people and injured over 55 at a celebration in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township.

According to UNHCR, hundreds of Myanmar nationals including refugees and military defectors have been sent back against their will by Malaysia in the past two months.

Among recent deportations were six officers who defected from the Myanmar navy and were arrested by Malaysian authorities before being deported on Oct. 6, according to Reuters. One officer and his wife were detained upon arrival back in Yangon, it stated. At least four reportedly sought UN refugee status in Malaysia. In the latest case, Malaysia deported a Myanmar asylum-seeker from detention despite UNHCR interventions.

Myanmar nationals who had been detained by Malaysian authorities are deported to Myanmar on Oct. 6. (Photo: Myanmar Embassy in Malaysia/ Facebook)

The reports have sparked growing concern for political refugees and military personnel who defect and join the anti-regime movement.

Writing in an open letter to Malaysia, groups representing Myanmar military defectors said deportations put them in serious danger. They called on the neighboring country to immediately stop repatriating political refugees, including military personnel who join the civil disobedience movement against the regime.

Since the February 2021 military coup, the junta has carried out a nationwide campaign of mass killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and indiscriminate attacks that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

As of Tuesday, nearly 2,400 civilians had been killed and about 16,000 people arrested by junta forces, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.