Changes to Immigration Detention Centres Must Respect Human Rights

Press Statement: 26 August 2010

SUARAM welcomes the Malaysian Government’s move to review the management and upgrade the facilities of Immigration Detention Centres. National and international human rights organisations have long raised concerns regarding the deplorable conditions and poor management of detention centres but up until now, the Government has repeatedly denied such claims. By acknowledging the dire conditions at the detention centres, it stands to reason that the Government can no longer ignore this issue.

It was announced that the Government intends to revamp the detention centres within the next 3 months. However, SUARAM is concerned about some aspects of the announced plans which are as follows:

1.      Reinstating RELA to manage security
In November 2007, when the management of immigration detention centres were transferred from the Prisons Department to the Immigration Department, RELA personnel were deployed as the Immigration Department lacked personnel. Mid-2009 onwards, RELA personnel were withdrawn from the detention centres. During the period that RELA assisted in managing the detention centres, there were many allegations of poor treatment of detainees by RELA personnel, including verbal, psychological and physical abuse.

SUARAM is disappointed that the Government has made a u-turn on this decision by now including RELA in the management of the detention centres again. We have repeatedly argued that RELA personnel should not be given powers to act as law enforcement agencies as they do not have adequate training.

2.      Explore alternatives to detention
As most migrants detained in immigration detention centres are detained for flouting immigration laws and are not criminals, detention should be used as a last resort. If there is a need for them to be held for processing purposes, alternatives to detention must be explored such as those currently practiced in Australia, including community detention or case management[1].

Detention should not be the first option particularly when it comes to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, children and trafficked victims. Refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and trafficked victims cannot be deported, and as such should be released.

3.      Security should not be the main concern
Based on news reports, it seems like the Government is more concerned about the security aspect of immigration detention centres rather than the welfare of the detainees. SUARAM is of the view that adequate attention must be given to fulfilling the basic rights of the detainees. These include providing clothing, bedding, adequate clean water, sufficient diet, on-site access to health care, personal sanitary supplies, and daily activities.

In line with these serious concerns, SUARAM calls on the Government to:

  • Stop the use of RELA in the management of immigration detention centres.
  • Stop the detention of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, trafficked victims and children.
  • Explore alternatives to detention as a method to minimise the use of detention as first resort for those who have violated immigration laws.
  • Ensure that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the management of immigration detention centres complies with international human rights standards such as the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.
  • Hold regular consultations with civil society and stakeholders to openly discuss and receive recommendations on how to improve the management of immigration detention centres.

Released by,
Temme Lee
Coordinator

[1]International Detention Coalition (2009) “Case management as an alternative to immigration detention: The Australian Experience”, at http://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/casemanagementinaustralia.pdf, accessed 25 April 2010.