Fri 30 Jul 2010
Filed under: Regional
Thirty-two Burmese detainees died while in custody in Immigration Detention Center in Malaysia, the highest number of foreign detainee deaths, according to Malaysia’s minister of home affairs.Minister of Home Affairs Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said a total of 78 foreign detainees died during 2005 to 2009 in Immigration Detention Centers.
The foreign detainees included citizens from Burma, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nigeria, Togo, Pakistan, Liberia and the Philippines. The minister did not attribute the cause of death among the detainees.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Tenne Lee, a refugee coordinator from Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) who works on human rights issues in Malaysia, said, “What we know about the cause of the deaths is that most of them died because of medical reasons.”
Tenne Lee said that there is not adequate medical treatment while detainees are in custody. Even if the detainees have medicine from a hospital when they enter a detention center, the medicine is confiscated, she said.
“We do monitor things if we get information about deaths. We do pressure the government, but we don’t have power to do investigations,” she said. “It is hard to know the exact number of deaths. The government is not accountable.”
According to a press release from the Malaysian Bar Council in 2009, 1,300 foreigners died in detention centers during the past six years.
Some Burmese human rights activists in Malaysia say that the number of detainee deaths is much higher than acknowledged by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Nai Roi Mon, who works with Mon detainees in Kuala Lumpur and is a member of the Mon Refugee office in Malaysia, said: “I doubt their numbers. As I remember, at least 100 Burmese died in detention centers during the past five years.”
He said that many of detainees died because they were denied medical treatment when needed.
There are about 500,000 Burmese migrants in Malaysia, legally and illegally. Burmese detainees are the largest group in detention centers.
There are 28 Immigration Detention Centers in Malaysia. Human rights advocates say there are constant complaints of inadequate food, water and unsanitary conditions. Detainees are not given clothing.
Advocates say that family members who try to bring cases to court are discouraged by governmental delay. There has never been a successful case of prosecution for negligence, said Tenne Lee. She said children are not separated from adults in detention centers.
According to a 2009 SUARAM report titled “Malaysia Civil and Political Rights Overview,” nine Burmese detainees died in detention centers from May to August last year due to an outbreak of Leptospirosis (an infectious disease caused by contaminated water or food which has been infected with rodent urine).
Human rights groups and civil society groups highlighted the outbreak of the disease in detention centers, but they say the government has been slow to respond.
Malaysia is ranked as one of the worst countries for refugees by the international watchdog, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Malaysia also ranks poorly among countries in meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, according to the US State Department.