World

118 deaths in M'sian immigration detention centres in 2 years

KUALA LUMPUR: More than a 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 government-funded National Human Rights Commission.

The toll, which has not been previously disclosed, is based on Malaysian immigration department data provided to the commission, which is known by its Malay acronym Suhakam.

There were 83 deaths in 2015, and at least 35 in 2016 up to Dec 20. It is unclear whether the death rate is higher than in neighbouring countries.

Government officials in Indonesia and Thailand told Reuters they do not disclose such numbers.

The rate is higher than in major industrialised nations such as the United States, which in the last financial year recorded 10 deaths in its immigration detention system, which has many more detainees than Malaysia's.

More than half of the 118 dead are from Myanmar, the source for tens of thousands of refugees coming to Malaysia, including Rohingya Muslims escaping persecution by Myanmar's authorities and its majority Buddhist population. The number of Rohingya fatalities in the camps is unknown.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's office did not return calls seeking comment.

"The numbers are too many and are shocking and it calls for the overhaul of the system," said Mr Jerald Joseph, one of eight commissioners at Suhakam, which was established by the Malaysian parliament through an act in 1999 and is due to publicly announce the numbers next week in its annual report on human rights issues in Malaysia.

He described conditions at the centres, some of which he has visited, as "appalling" and said the deaths should be investigated as a criminal matter.

The illnesses that led to some of the deaths may have been caused or exacerbated by poor sanitation and food, physical abuse and a lack of medical attention, said Mr Joseph, who was speaking on behalf of the commission. - REUTERS

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