A fortnightly snapshot of what’s making headlines in South East Asia.
Malaysia deports more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals
Earlier this week Malaysia deported 1,086 Myanmar nationals despite a court order being in place to halt the repatriation. The court order was the outcome of Amnesty International and asylum advocacy groups requesting a judicial review, citing concerns that the people would be at risk if they returned to now military-ruled Myanmar. Human rights groups also reported that more than a dozen of the detainees were children—deporting children would mean a breach of Malaysia’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its own domestic Child Act.
Earlier this month (12 February), the Malaysian government accepted an offer by Myanmar’s army to send three navy ships to repatriate 1,200 of its nationals held in Malaysian immigration detention centres. The offer came a week after the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) seized power. As noted by one observer, this raised suspicions that the offer was a bid to win favour with the Malaysian government.
Malaysia’s immigration chief said that no Rohingya or asylum seekers were in the group returned. He further stated that all “agreed to return of their own free will”. But given that UNHCR has been unable to access Malaysia’s immigration detention centres since August 2019 and refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar comprise the majority of those registered with UNHCR in the country, the government’s claims cannot be independently verified.
Indonesia takes lead within ASEAN on Myanmar crisis
Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi met Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, for talks in Bangkok earlier this week. Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Parmudwinai also joined the meet. Foreign Minister Rento had originally indicated she would travel to Myanmar, but later postponed her visit to Naypyidaw to “directly convey” Indonesia’s position on the political crisis. Earlier this week it was revealed that Indonesia is putting pressure on its Southeast Asian counterparts to agree on an action plan for Myanmar that would hold the junta to its public promise of holding elections and granting access to election monitors. According to sources, the ‘Indonesian report’ also outlines plans for ASEAN to facilitate dialogue between the junta and protestors.
The Philippine Congress passes law to give drug companies immunity from lawsuits
The Covid-19 Vaccination Programme Act recently passed by the Philippine Congress will give public officials and drug companies immunity from civil and criminal lawsuits, except in cases of gross negligence and wilful misconduct. This follows news that deliveries of vaccine doses from Pfizer BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca were being held up because drug makers were demanding indemnity clauses in the purchase contracts. It is hoped that the new Act will address these concerns and also provides for an indemnity fund to compensate the victims or their families in cases where vaccine use results in death, permanent disability or hospitalisation. There is low public trust in vaccines in the Philippines—largely the outcome of the Dengvaxia vaccine scandal in 2016—where hundreds of school children died after receiving the French firm Sanofi’s dengue fever vaccine.
Dr Lucy West is a Senior Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.