An opposition MP has called on the government to stop detaining child refugees and asylum seekers, urging it to place them under temporary care centres through NGOs, citing a growing concern over child deaths in immigration depots.
As of May 2023, a total of 998 children were held in immigration depots, with an average of four child deaths a year. Seven children are known to have died between 2014 and July 2022.
Perikatan Nasional's Sik MP Ahmad Tarmizi Sulaiman said Malaysia should immediately end detention of refugee children as it is detrimental to their mental and physical health.
"Any period of detention, including short-term detention, has prolonged effects on children, regardless of whether they are detained with family members or alone," he said while debating the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia's (Suhakam) annual report in the Dewan Rakyat today.
He said that immigration detention also affects the country's economy as it is 90% more expensive than alternative care programmes that provide community-based care and protection to children and refugees.
He also raised concern over the Alternative to Detention (ATD) pilot programme aimed at protecting children, which has seen no new progress since its launch by Putrajaya.
The project, a joint initiative by the women, family and community development ministry and the home affairs ministry, aims to release unaccompanied and separated children from immigration detention.
They would then be placed under temporary shelter, acknowledging the potential harms immigration detention causes to children.
"However, a year has passed, and the ATD pilot programme has yet to be implemented.
"No children have been released and placed in temporary protection centres." he said.