Malaysia investigated 150 foreign detainee fatalities last year

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an immigration truck carrying myanmar migrants to be deported from malaysia is seen in lumut

Human rights groups have urged Malaysia to probe conditions at migrant detention centers following the government’s report that 150 foreigners, including seven children, perished at the facilities in 2014.

Foreigners lacking proper licenses to remain in Malaysia, especially asylum seekers, are often detained. It is home to millions of unauthorized migrants and more than one hundred thousand Rohingya refugees.

According to activists and former detainees interviewed by Reuters, its detention centers are overcrowded and unsanitary, and detainees have inadequate access to food, water, and health care.

In a written response to a parliamentary question this week, the home minister of Malaysia, Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, stated that seven children and 25 women perished in custody last year.

He did not reveal the reason of deaths or the number of migrants detained. Malaysia said in July 2017 that 17,703 foreigners were being held in its detention centers.

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“The fact that so many foreigners, including children, die in immigration custody is a damning indictment of Malaysia’s inability to respect detainees as human beings with rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Foreigners without documentation are often kept for extended periods while awaiting deportation, whereas refugees and asylum seekers who refuse to return home are held indefinitely.

Malaysia does not recognize refugees, and those granted shelter by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have little legal protections (UNHCR).

Since August 2019, the UNHCR has been denied access to detention sites, impeding efforts to release and resettle asylum seekers.

Amnesty International asserted that restricted access and a lack of independent monitoring fostered damage and demanded a transparent inquiry into the deaths.

It stated, “It is the responsibility of the government to act openly and swiftly.”

The home ministry and immigration department of Malaysia, which operate the detention centers, did not reply to calls for comment.

Malaysia’s handling of migrants has come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

Thousands of undocumented visitors were arrested in 2020 in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to authorities. In addition, Myanmar has deported asylum seekers, sparking criticism.

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