JULY 14 — When writing an article about our immigration officers and detention centres last year, the South China Morning Post called it “Malaysia’s secret hell.”
This seems to be right on point: On Friday, the immigration department confirmed a Nigerian Ph D student at Limkokwing University had died in immigration custody, following a raid five days back.
The autopsy report is pending. Nevertheless, this death could have been avoided. The immigration director-general, Khairul Dzaimee Daud, said they detained Thomas Orhions Ewansiha to check if his student pass was legit as he attempted to flee during the raid.
But the burning question is this: Why did it take five days for them to verify Ewansiha’s document when a phone call to the university would have clarified the matter instantly?
This clearly shows an abuse of power by the immigration department.
In 2017, Reuters reported that more than one hundred foreigners died in the past two years in Malaysia’s immigration detention centres from various diseases and unknown causes, according to documents from the National Human Rights Commission or Suhakam.
Commissioner Jerald Joseph described conditions at the centres as “appalling” and said the deaths should be investigated as a criminal matter.
In June last year, the immigration department came under scrutiny when an officer slapped a foreigner across the head with his passport before hitting his hands on the counter.
And a month before that, Singaporean Joshua posted on his Facebook about how he entered hell when Malaysian immigration officers detained him at the airport because his passport was due to expire in less than six months.
He was detained for 26 hours and wrote about seeing an innocent man being physically abused for asking questions.
In May 2018, a transgender man claimed he was humiliated by our immigration officers and threatened with physical assault because of his gender identity.
It’s clear that the blatant abuse of authority has led to many being held in overcrowded cells, denied medical attention and proper food, arbitrarily detained and denied their basic rights.
Today, we have another death in our hands. The immigration department must be held responsible for this because Ewansiha and the others deserve justice.
And reforms are imminent to make this happen; not just in immigration detention centres but prisons too as Suhakam says there were 521 deaths in prisons in 2015 and 2016.
Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the prison department is looking at sweeping reforms in the areas of detention, rehabilitation, staff training, compliance with regulations and facilities.
I hope that these could be extended to include a review of the Standard Operating Procedure of the immigration department as well, as Ewansiha’s death is one too many.
* Charles Santiago is Member of Parliament Klang and member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights and Gender
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.