(This report was published in September 22, 2003 in Malaysiakini.com)
The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) has found the living conditions in detention centers for illegal immigrants less than 'decent' and failed to meet the minimum standards.
"The living conditions fell far short of the decent conditions of habitation, let alone those requirements stipulated in the standard minimum rules," said commissioner Hamdan Adnan in a statement released today.
Hamdan led a team of officers from the commission's complaints and inquiries working group to visit seven detention centers last month.
They are the Sungai Petani juvenile detention centre in Kedah; Belantek immigration depot in Sik, Kedah; Seremban police lock-up; Macap Umboo immigration depot in Melaka; Lenggeng immigration depot in Negeri Sembilan; Semenyih immigration depot in Selangor; and Langkap immigration depot in Perak.
The commission urged the government to give attention to the unhygienic conditions that were prevalent at these detention centres.
For example, Hamdan said at the Macap Umboo centre, a building that house male detainees was in a deplorable state due to an overflowing septic tank.
"The heath of the detainees and personnel were at risk as there had been a recent outbreak of meningitis at the depot."
80-YEAR-OLD MAN HELD
Similarly, he added, at the Lenggeng centre, two buildings were water-clogged and had detainees with "skin infections and rashes all over their bodies and pus oozing from their skin". The Suhakam commissioner said that to overcome any outbreak of diseases at these centres, the health authorities should conduct regular health checks.
"The social welfare department should look into his plight as he should not be left to anguish at the detention centre." The man had been under detention due to the doubts over his nationality. He had claimed to be a Malaysian citizen and spoke Bahasa Malaysia but did not have the necessary documents to verify his claims.
Suhakam also noted that most of the detention centres were overcrowded and understaffed.
At the Belantek centre, Suhakam found that the lack of space resulted in some detainees sleeping along the corridors and beneath the buildings that had been raised above ground.
The commission recommended that the government immediately deploy more immigration personnel to these centres to ensure the security of the staff and detainees.
It reported that at the Macap Umboo centre, there were only four personnel to man a total of 371 detainees, while at the Lenggeng centre, only six personnel to manage 510 detainees and in Semenyih, eight personnel for 1,807 detainees. Hamdan also urged foreign embassies to actively participate in hastening the departure of their citizens who are being detained in the country for illegal entry.
Suhakam says that these embassies should come forward and cooperate with the local immigration authorities in order to resolve problems of communication with the foreign nationals.
"The embassies can help contact family members (of these detainees) in order to shorten time in transit and to hasten deportation," he said.
According to Hamdan, several of these foreign nationals had been awaiting deportation for a long period due to a lack of cooperation from certain embassies to acknowledge citizens from their country.
"The lack of valid documentation has hampered efforts to send these detainees home. Immigration (department) informed us that they were trying to correspond with families of these detainees to get the relevant documents," said Hamdan.
He also added that language barrier was also a major problem for the authorities.
Most of the detainees in these places were Rohingya and Acehnese asylum seekers. The others include nationals from Vietnam, Cambodia, China and India.
Also in detention were women who had been duped of high-paying jobs in Malaysia but eventually ending up in prostitution. These women are from Indonesia, Burma, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam and China.
Posted on 2004-01-09