PETALING JAYA: The government should allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to Immigration detention centres as thousands of asylum seekers are held there, says the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).
While the majority of them are Rohingya, as of April last year there were also Palestinians and Syrians in these centres, said Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph.
The government itself had said in July that there were 1,340 Rohingya in Immigration detention centres around the country.
Jerald said in all there were about 18,000 people in these detention centres, most of them having violated the country’s immigration laws.
“The majority of them should rightfully be deported but there are those who can’t be sent back for fear of persecution,” he said in an online press conference on Thursday (May 20).
He said the presence of asylum seekers contributed to the overcrowding of detention centres.
“Why keep them in when there is nowhere else to send them … Malaysia is very good on solidarity with many of these countries.
“If there is no solution let them be processed by UNHCR … They have not committed any crime. The difficult situation in their home country forced them to seek temporary refuge,” he said.
He added that Suhakam have written to the Immigration Department and Home Ministry on the matter, but has yet to get a formal response.
He said from their dialogue with the authorities, it is understood there are policies being drawn up for verification of asylum seekers to be synchronised with UNHCR’s procedures.
“It is a good thing and we support that … But I think it is taking too long and I don’t think you need to suspend the functioning of UNHCR while getting the policy in place. We can do both in tandem,” he said.
Suhakam commissioner for child affairs Prof Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal said there were Rohingya children and teens in the centres as well.
Some of the Rohingya girls were unaccompanied and trafficked in for the purpose of marriage, said Prof Noor Aziah.
“It’s not the fault of the child that they are here in Malaysia,” she said, adding that she visited the Langkawi detention camp in August.
She added that there were also mothers and babies there.
As of March this year, there were some 178,920 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, with the majority coming from Myanmar.
Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol. It lacks a legal or administrative framework to regulate the status and rights of refugees.
Refugees are considered undocumented migrants under immigration laws in Malaysia and are at risk of arrest, detention and deportation.
While refugees are not allowed to work legally, many of them work informally.