Malaysia deports asylum seekers to Aceh despite UNHCR appeal
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sept 5 (UNHCR) - Malaysian authorities today deported seven asylum seekers to the strife-torn Indonesian province of Aceh amid serious concerns raised by the UN refugee agency and despite recent assurances against forced returns.
According to the UNHCR office in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, the seven people were sent home by boat across the Straits of Malacca on Friday morning. The refugee agency was not granted access to the deportees, who had said they wanted to seek asylum when interviewed two weeks ago.
The deportations come after UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers appealed this week to the Malaysian government for a moratorium against the forced return of asylum seekers to Aceh. The High Commissioner had spoken to senior officials of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and expressed serious concerns over persistent reports that preparations were underway to deport some 250 asylum seekers who originated from Aceh province.
"The deportation is most unfortunate, particularly coming shortly before a high-level mission from UNHCR which is due to arrive in Kuala Lumpur next Wednesday to discuss ways in which this specific issue can be addressed in a way which meets protection needs," said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville at a press briefing in Geneva Friday.
Over the last two weeks, hundreds of people from Aceh were arrested near the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur and detained in Langkap immigration detention centre in Perak state. This effectively bars them from exercising their right to seek international protection.
UNHCR has repeatedly urged officials in Malaysia to work with the agency to provide safety in the country. Prior to Friday's deportations, Malaysian authorities had made assurances that persons fleeing the conflict in Aceh would not be returned to a situation which could endanger their lives and well-being.
Aceh, an oil- and gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra island, has been caught up in conflict since 1976.
The UN refugee agency believes there are 8,000-9,000 people from Aceh in Malaysia who may be of concern to UNHCR. So far this year, several hundred have approached the agency's office in Kuala Lumpur every week, especially after the ceasefire in Aceh broke down in May.