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‘Why detain asylum seekers in the first place?’: Govt slammed after mass escape, deaths of Rohingya

Lawyers for Liberty warns that the blood of the six Rohingya including two children who were killed during the escape is on the government's hands.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Lorries from the immigration department carrying Rohingya detainees leave the temporary detention depot in Relau Bandar Baharu. Photo: Bernama
Lorries from the immigration department carrying Rohingya detainees leave the temporary detention depot in Relau Bandar Baharu. Photo: Bernama

Vocal rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has questioned authorities for detaining hundreds of Rohingya in an immigration depot when they should be considered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, saying the move reflects badly on Malaysia’s reputation in view of its membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council.

This comes after more than 500 Rohingya fled an immigration detention depot in Penang early yesterday, six of whom including two children were killed in an accident while attempting to cross a highway.

LFL said there was “no discernible reason” why so many had been crammed into a makeshift depot as they could not have been deported back to their home country by the principle of non-refoulement.

“The elephant in the room that needs to be addressed is the fact that the authorities detained hundreds of Rohingya, who are deemed as refugees and asylum seekers, in a temporary immigration depot.

“This principle (of non-refoulement), which prohibits any country from returning individuals to a country where they would face torture, cruel or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, renders it impossible for the Rohingya to be sent back to their country, lest the government wishes to run afoul of international law,” LFL chief coordinator Zaid Malek said in a statement.

The escape of the 528 Rohingya detainees from the Sungai Bakap immigration detention depot sparked a massive manhunt involving the police and other enforcement authorities.

Police in Penang and Kedah mounted roadblocks as part of their operation to track down the escapees, who had been detained under the Immigration Act two years ago.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin meanwhile ordered the police and immigration department to conduct a “thorough investigation”, saying Malaysia does not recognise the refugee status of the Rohingya and that their presence in the country is based on humanitarian grounds.

“To preserve the sovereignty and interests of Malaysians, stern action, without compromise, will be taken against any party violating the country’s laws,” he said.

LFL reminded Putrajaya that it was expected to comply with international norms and standards, given its recent election to the United Nations Humans Rights Council.

“The act of detaining refugees and asylum seekers in bulk to the point where a temporary detention depot had to be created is truly appalling behaviour that strips away any of the government’s credibility in the council, even more so since children were reportedly also part of those who were detained,” Zaid said.

“The responsibility for the current predicament lies solely on the shoulders of the government, which wilfully ignored the advice of many NGOs and stakeholders and continuously incarcerates refugees and asylum seekers into cramped detention centres.

“The blood of the Rohingya who died while on the run, which included at least two children, is on the government’s hands.”