JAKARTA (AFP): The Malaysian government is forcibly returning Indonesian refugees from Aceh province to Indonesia where their safety is at risk amid a continuing conflict there, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday.
The report documents Malaysia's deportations of refugees and asylum-seekers from Aceh and the mistreatment of Acehnese refugees while in Malaysia, the New York-based group said.
The group accuses Malaysian authorities of violating their international legal obligations by failing to distinguish between Acehnese refugees fleeing conflict and other undocumented Indonesians in Malaysia.
"Acehnese are fleeing a brutal conflict, marked by massive human rights violations," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch Asia division.
"Instead of deporting, detaining and abusing them, Malaysia should recognize its legal obligations and offer them a safe place of refuge until it is safe to go home."
Indonesia last May declared martial law in Aceh and launched an all-out offensive aimed at crushing separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
"The Malaysian government claims that Acehnese refugees are illegal immigrants," said Adams. "In fact, Malaysia itself is acting illegally by forcibly returning them to a place where their lives are in danger."
In a report last December, Human Rights Watch said Acehnese refugees in Malaysia had spoken of abuses against civilians by Indonesian security forces, including extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, beatings and arbitrary arrests.
Indonesia described the claims as baseless and said there had been no report of a new wave of refugees from Aceh to Malaysia.
Human Rights Watch says "thousands" of Acehnese have sought safety in Malaysia since the military operation began last year.
Once they reach Malaysia, however, Acehnese refugees regularly face abuse by Malaysian police including arrest, raids on refugee settlements and extortion, Human Rights Watch said.
"They burned eight huts and the canteen," one Acehnese refugee told Human Rights Watch. "I lost all my clothes, my passport, everything! Everybody ran. It was the Malaysian police."
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