118 die in Malaysian immigration detention camps in two years

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Picture from: Right Now – Human Rights in Australia

More than one hundred foreigners died in the past two years in Malaysia’s immigration detention centers, said Reuters in an exclusive report on the years 2015-2016 today.

The report said, however, the 118 foreigners died from various diseases and unknown causes and 63 were from Myanmar.

Myanmar, the source for tens of thousands of refugees coming to Malaysia, including Rohingya Muslims escaping persecution by Myanmar’s authorities and its majority Buddhist population.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been a harsh critic of the Myanmar government and its de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a crackdown in October by Myanmar’s security forces.

The United Nations said there is evidence the Rohingya were fleeing mass killings and gang rapes by troops.

A Suhakam commissioner described conditions at the centers, some of which he has visited, as “appalling” and said the deaths should be investigated as a criminal matter.

The illnesses that led to some of the deaths may have been caused or exacerbated by poor sanitation and food, physical abuse and a lack of medical attention, said Joseph, who was speaking on behalf of the commission.

Reuters cited documents from the government–funded National Human Rights Commission reviewed by the news agency.

The death toll, which has not been previously disclosed, is based on Malaysian immigration department data provided to the commission, which is known by its Malay acronym Suhakam.

There were 83 deaths in 2015, and at least 35 in 2016 up to Dec. 20.

The rate is higher than in major industrialized nations such as the United States, which in the last financial year recorded 10 deaths in its immigration detention system, which has many more detainees than Malaysia’s.

The living conditions inside the Malaysian camps are grim – overcrowded, unhygienic and brutal – according to interviews with 13 former detainees, and 12 others who have regularly visited the centers, including people from government agencies and rights groups.

Those who had been detained say they did not get adequate food, water or healthcare, that many inmates developed skin and lung infections, and the sick are usually not isolated, leading to the spread of contagious diseases.

All of the detainees interviewed also allege they were beaten by guards at the camps or witnessed others being beaten.

One former Rohingya inmate of the Lenggeng camp in the southwestern state of Negeri Sembilan told Reuters in an interview that he witnessed detainees being beaten and then saw them die when the resulting injuries were not treated. “When we asked for medicines, we were beaten,” he said.

The people from Myanmar have fared worse than those from elsewhere, the documents from Suhakam and data from the Malaysian government’s Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) show, said Reuters.

During 2016, for example, there were 14,180 Myanmar nationals detained and at least 14 of them died, while there were only five fatalities among 34,586 Indonesian inmates. The documents and data don’t explain this discrepancy and Reuters was unable to independently confirm the reason for it.

The 13 detention centers in Malaysia held a total 86,795 detainees for various periods during 2016, according to the EAIC.