At least two dozen refugees and asylum seekers have died in Malaysia immigration detention centres since 2015, the United Nations refugee agency has told the Guardian.
Living in fetid, overcrowded cells, inmates are so severely deprived of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care that the Malaysian national human rights commission described conditions as “torture-like”.
Among a dozen recently-released refugees interviewed by the Guardian, everyone saw at least one inmate die, mostly of disease, but in some cases also due to physical abuse.
“They gave us only one small cup of water with our meals, otherwise we had to drink toilet water,” said Mouyura Begum, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee detained for over a year at Belantik.
“Only when someone was about to die would the guards come. Otherwise, if we complained, or if we asked to go to the hospital, they beat us,” she said.
All but two of the 24 “people of concern” confirmed dead by the UN were Myanmar nationals. The toll, based on data provided by Malaysian authorities, may represent only a fraction of refugee fatalities in 17 immigration detention centres.
“UNHCR is informed of the death of a detained person of concern when we make a request pertaining to that person,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR’s country representative in Malaysia.
Former detained refugees said they spent months, even years, petitioning the guards to notify UNHCR of their whereabouts — the only way to get their refugee status verified and avoid deportation. The average lock up period is 16 months.
“These deaths are absolutely preventable,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The fix is very easy — Malaysia just has to stop treating refugees like hardened criminals.”
Malaysia’s home ministry this month revealed in parliament that 161 people died of “various diseases” in immigration detention between 2014-2016. It did not indicate how many of the dead were refugees but almost half were from Myanmar, the source of 90% of Malaysia’s refugee population. Read More…
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