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Human Rights Watch highlights grave conditions for migrants in Malaysia

Human Rights Watch’s report criticizes Malaysia for detaining 12,000 migrants under harsh conditions, urging humane alternatives. Published on Wednesday, it reveals abuses in detention centers.



Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a comprehensive report on Wednesday (6 March), vehemently criticizing the Malaysian government for the detention of approximately 12,000 migrants and refugees, including 1,400 children, under deplorable conditions that pose a grave risk to their physical and psychological health.

The report, entitled “‘We Can’t See the Sun’: Malaysia’s Arbitrary Detention of Migrants and Refugees,” spans 60 pages and uncovers the punitive and abusive treatment faced by detainees in 20 immigration detention centers across Malaysia.

Based on interviews with more than 40 stakeholders, including former detainees and humanitarian aid workers, the report details the harrowing conditions within the detention centers, characterized by overcrowding, unsanitary environments, and a lack of access to basic necessities. “

Malaysian authorities are treating migrants as criminals, arbitrarily holding them for prolonged periods in immigration centers with almost no access to the outside world,” Shayna Bauchner, an Asia researcher at HRW, stated.

She further highlighted the systemic denial of migrants’ and refugees’ rights to liberty, health, and due process as a significant concern.

The findings emphasize the indiscriminate application of Malaysia’s immigration laws, which criminalize all forms of irregular entry and stay, without considering the special circumstances of refugees, asylum seekers, trafficking victims, or undocumented migrants. This policy has led to more than 45,000 people being detained since May 2020.

Detainees shared chilling accounts of their treatment, including beatings for minor requests and severe punishments during muster calls.

“We would get beaten when we asked for more food, took an extra mug of water to shower, or asked for a blanket for the cold,” one Rohingya refugee recounted, exposing the brutal reality inside the immigration depots.

Humanitarian staff and former detainees were quoted by HRW saying that conditions in immigration detention facilities are worse than in Malaysia’s prisons.

At least in prison, one migrant worker said, they gave him soap and a change of clothes, and he was allowed to leave his block.

The report also highlights the systemic lack of legal oversight, with detainees held indefinitely without the possibility of judicial review or appeal, a clear breach of international human rights standards.

Furthermore, the denial of access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since August 2019 has left many without the means to seek asylum or protection, exacerbating their vulnerability.

“Detained refugees and asylum seekers said that immigration officials used threats, degrading treatment, and violence to block requests to meet with the UN refugee agency or to coerce them to return to their countries of origin,” HRW reported, showcasing the dire situation for those seeking refuge.

In response to the UNHCR’s claim of denial of access, Malaysian Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail stated in February that his ministry has no objections to the UNHCR visiting detainees at immigration detention centres.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called for immigration detention to be gradually abolished, stating that “migrants must not be qualified or treated as criminals” and that immigration detention should only be used “as an exceptional measure of last resort, for the shortest period and only if justified by a legitimate purpose, such as documenting entry and recording claims or initial verification of identity if in doubt.”

In light of these findings, HRW urges the Malaysian government to reconsider its reliance on detention as a means of immigration control and to adopt alternatives that respect the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees.

“Instead of maintaining abusive detention centers, the government should develop alternatives that protect the rights of children, refugees, and other vulnerable migrants,” Bauchner advised, calling for a shift towards more humane and effective immigration management practices.

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They should have a look at UK’s recent internal security law and the US Patriot act

Human Rights Watch is an Anglo-American organization to smear their enemies and promote themselves as the Guardian of the “Free World”

There’s a decades old ruling by the UN court that the islands be given back to the original inhabitants whom the Brits and Yanks shipped off elsewhere so the US could build their airbase at Diego Garcia. The brits and American have just cheerfully ignored the ruling. Not a peep from Human Rights Watch. What about the obscene rate of incarceration in the US? Majority of incarcerated being minorities. Guantanamo?