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M’sia Home Minister clashes with HRW on migrant conditions allegations

Malaysian Home Minister rejects Human Rights Watch report, dismissing claims of punitive treatment and abuse in 20 immigration detention centers across Malaysia.



KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail engaged in a dispute with Human Rights Watch (HRW) regarding the organization’s recent human rights report.

Titled “‘We Can’t See the Sun’: Malaysia’s Arbitrary Detention of Migrants and Refugees,” the latest report spans 60 pages, shedding light on the punitive and abusive treatment endured by detainees across 20 immigration detention centres in Malaysia.

HRW criticized 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.

However, Home Minister Saifuddin during a Tuesday (12 March) parliamentary sitting refuted the allegation, pointing out that Malaysia has 20 immigration depots with a total capacity of 20,650 individuals.

He clarified that as of March 7, only 13,655 individuals were housed in these facilities, well below their capacity.

“The HRW report is dismissed on its own merits; let the figures speak for themselves,” asserted the Minister.

Addressing concerns about overcrowding, he emphatically stated, “The answer is no. Last year, we allocated RM123 million to manage these 20 depots but spent only RM83 million.”

Responding to an inquiry from MP Lim Guan Eng during the minister’s question time in the Dewan Rakyat, Saifuddin elaborated, “When individuals are deported, we even cover their ferry and air travel expenses as part of our care. ”

“However, HRW claims that we engage in torture leading to fatalities.”

Highlighting the demographic composition of immigration depots, he specified that the majority come from Myanmar (4,541), followed by Indonesia (3,797), the Philippines (2,914), Bangladesh (1,000), Thailand (329), and 1,054 from various other countries.

Explaining the detainee profile, Saifuddin emphasized that occupants include individuals who completed prison sentences, awaiting travel documents, as well as those apprehended under Immigration Act and passport-related laws.

 He noted, “There are even UNHCR cardholders among the detainees, but they include individuals involved in legal violations, drug-related crimes, rape, murder, and rare earth theft cases in Sik, Kedah.”

Regarding repatriation, he mentioned, “A total of 41,658 individuals were repatriated to their respective countries last year.”

In response to the HRW report, the Parliamentary Select Committee had called for clarifications.

Saifuddin revealed that when HRW was asked for evidence, including specifying locations of alleged deaths and oppression, they were unable to provide any.

“They could not present a shred of evidence, yet they have broadcasted their report worldwide,” he remarked.

Announcing the ministry’s intent to dispatch a letter urging HRW to provide evidence, Saifuddin criticized the “profoundly irresponsible” allegations.

He expressed gratitude to the Parliamentary Select Committee for granting the Immigration Department an opportunity to present a rebuttal, emphasizing, “We are committed to cooperating, hoping that a more credible version from us can neutralize all these accusations. ”

“We are a country that strictly adheres to the law, taking actions based on compassion and humanity,” he asserted.

HRW Asia Director disputes Minister’s assertion of baselessness in human rights report

Nevertheless, HRW Asia director Elaine Pearson has refuted the Minister’s claims that its report on human rights violations and abuse at detention centres nationwide is baseless, as reported by Malaysian media outlet Free Malaysia Today.

Pearson asserted that HRW’s 60-page report was grounded in intensive on-the-ground fact-finding and legal analysis, incorporating findings from over 40 interviews and a year of research. It underwent a thorough review and meticulously documented its sources.

She clarified that HRW had reached out to the home ministry, sending a letter on 29 January for feedback on its findings. However, despite weeks of requests, they did not receive a response from the ministry, nor were they able to meet with the Home Minister.

Pearson emphasized that HRW would still welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and visit the immigration detention centres.

In its report released last Wednesday, HRW alleged that women and children were subjected to abuse and neglect.

According to HRW, over 1,400 children were being held, with two-thirds of them unaccompanied or separated from their families and often detained with unrelated adults.

In response to these findings, HRW urged 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 centres, the government should develop alternatives that protect the rights of children, refugees, and other vulnerable migrants,” Shayna Bauchner, an Asia researcher at HRW advised, calling for a shift towards more humane and effective immigration management practices.

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