KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin today mocked human rights advocates who questioned the government’s shoddy treatment of detained undocumented migrants before deportation.

While taking questions during a news conference after launching the new national immigration system, Hamzah turned around and asked if non-governmental organisations were willing to cover the daily cost to house and feed the immigrants in the detention centres.

“It’s like this, when the time comes to return these immigrants to their home countries, we send them back. Why would we want to continue to hold them?

“It cost us about RM30 per head per day to care for them in the detention centres. If these NGOs care so much about these illegal immigrants, they should cover the cost. You can put them up in hotels if you like,” he told reporters.

Hamzah also touched on migrants who claim to be refugees from Myanmar, saying that he has already instructed the Immigration Department to screen through these migrants to check if they really are refugees.

“If they themselves send us a letter telling us they want to go home after going through whatever sentence they face in our country, why stop them from going home?

“And to those who want these refugees to stay in the country, I will send them the cost in order to pay for their upkeep in the country,” he said.

In March, two NGOs obtained leave to proceed with a judicial review to challenge the Malaysian government’s decision to repatriate 1,200 Myanmar refugees.

In February, the Immigration Department said it had deported 1,086 Myanmar citizens, whom it described as “illegal immigrants”, despite a High Court’s order to temporarily suspend any efforts to deport 1,200 individuals to Myanmar for one day just hours prior to that.

The Immigration Department had however insisted that the 1,086 Myanmar citizens were repatriated to Myanmar voluntarily without being forced to do so by everyone, also asserting that those of the Rohingya ethnicity or asylum seekers were not part of the 1,086 deported. The 1,086 had been detained in immigration detention centres nationwide since 2020, the department had said.

The move had drawn stern criticism, including from federal Opposition MPs, as well as human rights groups.

Amnesty International Malaysia highlighted the uncertainties and risks that the 1,086 would face upon their return amid political uncertainties in Myanmar, noting that the UNHCR has been denied access to Malaysia’s immigration detention centres since August 2019 and was not given a chance to access the 1,200 to check if any of them are registered refugees or asylum seekers.