Seven children and 25 women were among the foreigners who died in detention last year, minister says.
Human rights groups have urged Malaysia to investigate conditions at migrant detention centres after the government said 150 foreigners, including seven children, died at the facilities last year.
In a written reply this week to a question in parliament, Malaysia’s Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said seven children and 25 women were among those who died in detention last year.
He did not disclose the cause of deaths or the number of foreigners held in detention. Last July, Malaysia said there were 17,703 foreigners in its detention facilities.
“The fact that so many foreigners, including children, die in immigration custody is a scathing indictment of Malaysia’s failure to treat those they are holding as human beings who have rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty International called on the government to take action to prevent people’s death in detention.
“150 deaths in one year. Holistic, transparent investigations now,” Amnesty wrote in a series of tweets on Wednesday.
“The findings must be made public. Action must be urgent and comprehensive. Remedies must be found, and justice realised for the families of those who died. The government must act Now,” Amnesty wrote.
1/ People are dying in immigration detention centres.
150 deaths under immigration custody in 12 months.
No further information shared on causes of death, investigations, redress or prevention of future deaths.
People are dying – where is the action?@anwaribrahim @saifnasution pic.twitter.com/BDQSHldgfA
— Amnesty International Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) February 22, 2023
According to activists and interviews with former detainees by Reuters news agency, Malaysia’s detention centres are crowded and unhygienic, and detainees have inadequate access to food, water and healthcare.
Malaysia routinely detains foreigners who are without valid permits, allowing them to remain in the country, including asylum seekers. The country is also home to millions of undocumented migrants and more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees.
Undocumented foreigners are typically detained for long periods as they await deportation, while refugees and asylum seekers who do not want to return home are held indefinitely.
Malaysia does not recognise refugees and gives few rights to those given protection by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR has been denied access to detention centres since August 2019, hampering efforts to release and resettle asylum seekers, Reuters reported.
Malaysia’s home ministry and immigration department, which runs the detention centres, did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.