Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today slammed government figures showing that 756 children were being detained at immigration detention centres as of last month, calling this “inhumane” especially given the ongoing pandemic and overcrowded conditions at these centres.
In a statement, LFL coordinator Zaid Malek urged the government to immediately release the children into the care of their parents, guardian, or the appropriate welfare authorities.
“It is unfathomable as to why the authorities deem it fit and proper to detain hundreds of migrant and refugee children, most of whom are detained without guardians, in overcrowded detention centres during a worldwide health pandemic,” he said.
“These children must not be treated as criminals as they could not have entered the country on their own volition and are entirely victims of circumstance.”
Adding that Malaysia is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), he said it is incumbent on the government to ensure that the children’s interests are the primary consideration.
As things stand, he said, the government was “wilfully putting these vulnerable children at increased risk of Covid-19 infection, breaching its obligation under the CRC”.
The numbers, revealed in a written parliamentary reply by the home ministry on Wednesday, also showed that 326 or just under half of the children are of Myanmar nationality.
Zaid said it could be “reasonably presumed” that most, if not all, of them were thus Rohingya, which would mean that the authorities had detained child refugees and asylum seekers.
“The continued detention of these children in immigration detention centres is inhumane,” he said.
“We further reiterate our earlier calls for the authorities to halt any and all action against migrants while Covid-19 remains a viable threat and release all refugees and asylum seekers currently in detention.”