Update: Malaysian immigration officials confirmed the deportation of more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals on Tuesday, despite a ruling from the high court in Kuala Lumpur granting them a last-minute interim stay following international outcry.
The group was scheduled to be deported by the Myanmar navy on Wednesday morning, with a new hearing on the case to be held.
Malaysian immigration authorities said that Rohingya Muslims were not among those set to be deported and clarified that those detained had “invalid visa documents” and overstayed their permits.
The decision by the Malaysian government to send the detainees back to Myanmar comes as the country descends into political turmoil following the Feb. 1 takeover, with a general strike on Monday bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets to protest the arrests of leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her top allies.
Myanmar naval vessels were spotted in the Malaysian coastal town of Lumut.
Malaysian immigration trucks and makeshift tour buses carrying the groups of Myanmar migrants, said to be asylum seekers from the ethnic Chin, Kachin and non-Rohingya Muslim communities, were also seen arriving at the Lumut naval base earlier on Tuesday. Local reporters camped out in the area noted a strong police presence.
Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, leaving refugees and asylum seekers vulnerable to state detention as undocumented migrants. It has also stepped up on crackdowns on illegal immigrations during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rights groups had sought a court order to prevent the deportations from taking place as they feared detainees’ lives were at risk if they were returned to Myanmar, where many had fled persecution predating the takeover.
Myanmar’s junta has arrested, charged or sentenced at least 684 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group.
“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,” Amnesty Malaysia’s executive director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv told Reuters.
U.S. embassy officials also raised concerns and echoed earlier calls by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to have access to detainees currently in Malaysian custody.
This story has been updated to reflect the latest statement by the Malaysian government.