KUALA LUMPUR, July 13 — The recent death of Thomas Orhions Ewansiha, a Nigerian PhD student, who died while he was detained by the Immigration Department has again cast a spotlight on the agency’s history of being accused of ill-treating and abusing its subjects.
Thomas was detained even his documents, such as passport and student pass, were all valid. The 33-year-old is survived by a wife and two young children.
In July last year, foreign media reported extensively on horrifying tales of alleged abuses while in the hands of immigration officers in detention centres nationwide, including cases of violence and extortion.
Local human rights group Tenaganita’s executive director Glorene A. Das was reported saying that the abuse is a daily occurrence, and those reported were just the tip of the iceberg.
Malay Mail lists down five of other cases where the Immigration Department was accused of atrocities in the past year:
1. Damaging Singaporean’s passport, demanding bribe
Last October, a Singaporean national who called himself Muhammad Fauzi related that his passport was damaged by an Immigration officer at the Sultan Abu Bakar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex in Johor the month before.
The officer allegedly demanded a bribe to allow Fauzi to exit the country after tearing his passport.
Fauzi has since claimed that three other people have personally contacted him over similar ordeals, and urged others to step forward.
2. Refusing pass extension for pregnant Indonesian woman
In the same month, the Immigration allegedly rejected an Indonesian woman from extending her stay, even as she was pregnant and could not board a plane home.
Her husband, a Malaysian technician who called himself Albert, was even allegedly told by an officer that she should be sent home by ship if she could not travel by air. His wife was then eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
Albert was assisted by Seberang Prai municipal councillor K. Jason Raj later on, and when the two met up with a senior Immigration officer, the husband was rudely asked why she was brought here. Both were then told to leave.
3. Screaming, hurling insults at French academic
Renowned academic on Malaysia, Sophie Lemiere, was allegedly bullied by Immigration officers in January this year after her name was found to be on the “Suspicious List” of persons.
The French national was here to attend a conference following an invite by Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong.
Lemiere claimed she tried to explain that she was on the list due to her research during the previous regime, but was screamed at by one of the officers while another female officer insulted her using foul language such as “shit” and “stupid” several times.
4. Sued for detaining Singaporean in over-crowded, filthy cell
Last month, Singaporean national Puis Gilbert Louis sued the Immigration Department, seeking RM2.67 million in compensation, after he was allegedly detained in an over-crowded cell at the Pekan Nanas immigration camp.
Louis was arrested in October last year following a night raid at his house in Johor Baru. It was uncertain why he was detained, but he suggested that it may be because he was suspected of harbouring three of his guests who were accused of being illegal immigrants.
Reported to be an asthmatic and claustrophobe, Louis claimed he experienced breathing difficulties on the way there. The camp cell he was placed in housed 130 people, its toilet dirty and open, with no clean water available for drinking and food provided in unhygienic conditions.
Due to these conditions and others, Louis contracted diseases and lost a substantial amount of weight, only being able to seek medical treatment after he was released. He also claimed no lawyer could visit him during the detention, and that family and friends were only allowed limited access.
5. Detaining two babies for three weeks, refusing access to Filipino mums
The department kept detaining two Filipino babies not even two years old at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Centre despite repeated intervention from Putrajaya, while their mothers were denied access to see their children for 20 days.
The undocumented babies were detained during an immigration raid in Kajang, and were in the care of a relative. Their mothers who had valid visas were not at home.
It was only following revelation by Tenaganita and media coverage that the Immigration said they would be deported the next day.
Following their return, Philippines civil society Migrante International revealed that the refugees were allegedly treated “like animals”.
The claims include frequent routine inspections, unhygienic food, and cramped living spaces. Even the children were not spared from verbal abuse by the wardens and officers, with many of them in need of medical attention.
One woman said almost all of the detainees are from developing countries, including neighbours Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
One of the women claimed she witnessed how a detainee from Kenya was tied to the wall with both hands and made to stand the whole day, after showing signs of psychosis.