Suhakam tells Immigration Dept to stop large operations and process existing detainees instead

Undocumented migrants are rounded up during a raid by the Immigration Department in Petaling Jaya May 20, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Undocumented migrants are rounded up during a raid by the Immigration Department in Petaling Jaya May 20, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 — The Immigration Department has been advised to cease its large-scale operations to catch undocumented migrants for the time being, so as to prevent overcrowding in its depots and curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said the department could instead seek alternative methods to resolve the problem, such as legalisation (pemutihan) or pardons.

Its commissioner Jerald Joseph said access should also be granted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process undocumented migrants in the depots, and grant those who qualify UNHCR cards which would then free them from detention.

“We also recommend the department free foreign prisoners (banduan dagang) particularly asylum seekers and refugees, be they registered or not yet registered with the UNHCR, to the UNHCR authorities,” he said during the virtual press conference on Suhakam’s findings of conditions in prisons and detention centres.

The term refers to foreign nationals who are detained pending deportation to their countries of origin. They consist of prisoners who have completed their prison sentences and also those who continue to be held under the Immigration Act.

Joseph also said children or underaged undocumented migrants should not be placed in the same centres as the other detainees, but instead recommended that alternatives be developed to house them elsewhere.

“As it stands, the overcrowding in Immigration depots is due to the delayed deportation process as the borders of Malaysia and neighbouring countries are still closed due to the pandemic, despite some deportations back to Indonesia and Myanmar.

“Similarly the UNHCR has been unable to access the depots since August this year, and it is estimated there are 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers who qualify for recognition still being detained,” he said.

Joseph stressed that any detainment of undocumented migrants without the potential for deportation or freedom, such as Rohingya refugees, is a violation of international human rights laws.

“On the subject of foreign prisoners, Suhakam recommends that Malaysian legislation be amended to ensure they are detained as part of the last journey at Immigration depots and not in prisons, so their journey documentation can be swiftly processed and deportation carried out,” he said.

The commission’s findings determined that as of July 1, Immigration depots which have a capacity of housing 12,530 detainees are instead housing 15,163. Since October 19, there are 2,054 trade prisoners who have completed their prison sentence but still remain in jail instead of being transferred to the depots.

Suhakam expressed its concern that the delay in transferring the foreign prisoners to the depots will exacerbate the already-overcrowded conditions in prisons, and thus contribute to the further spread of Covid-19.

Meanwhile, Joseph also said the police and Health Ministry have agreed to the implementation of Custodial Medical Unit (CMU) in lock-ups, to provide 24-hour healthcare services and reduce the number of custodial deaths.

“The CMU will be implemented in five police central lock-ups, including Jinjang for KL, Shah Alam for Selangor, Bayan Baru for Penang, Indera Mahkota for Pahang, and Kepayan for Sabah.

“The ministry is now formulating standard operating procedures for the CMUs which began in August but has been delayed due to the recent Covid-19 wave. Once the CMUs have been implemented in the five locations, we recommend the government take steps to ensure it is implemented in all other lock-ups in stages nationwide,” he said, adding there are 700 lock-ups in Malaysia, with over 400 used to detain suspects.

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