According to Malaysian immigration department data supplied to the National Human Rights Commission reviewed by Reuters, more than one hundred foreigners died from various diseases and unknown causes in the past two years in Malaysia’s immigration detention centers.
In 2015 there were 83 deaths, and at least 35 also died in 2016. More than 50 percent of the 118 dead are from Myanmar, which had tens of thousands of refugees including Rohingya Muslims coming to Malaysia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been a harsh critic of the Myanmar government and its de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He has called for foreign intervention to stop the ‘genocide’ in Myanmar, refering to allegations of mass killings and gang rapes of many Rohingya by security forces.
The death number in the detention centers is very high, compared to the United States, which in 2016 recorded 10 deaths in its immigration detention system, despite having many more detainees than Malaysia.
“The numbers are too many and are shocking and it calls for the overhaul of the system,” said Jerald Joseph, one of eight commissioners of Suhakam, the commission established by the Malaysian parliament in 1999.
He described conditions at the centers he has visited, as ‘appalling’ and said the deaths should be investigated as a criminal matter.
Many died in the camp after becoming sick because the poor sanitation, lack of clean food, physical abuse and no medical attention, Joseph said.
Deputy home minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed said in an interview. “I agree there is some overcrowding and the conditions are not ideal. We are always trying to improve the procedures, health conditions and management of these sites. The problem is we hit a budget brick wall.”
Jazlan said there wasn’t enough funding to provide sufficient healthcare, upgrade facilities, and hire and train enforcement officers. He pointed the cause of overcrowding on the ‘never ending flow of people seeking better future in Malaysia.’
Malaysia isn’t the only Southeast Asia country that has faced criticism for its prisons conditions but the death rate in Malaysia’s neighboring countries are not known. Government officials in Indonesia and Thailand told Reuters they do not disclose such numbers.
In 2016 human rights report the U.S. State Department said government figures showed 548 prisoners died ‘in custody’ in Indonesia, and 762 died in ‘official custody’ in Thailand. However, there was no detail of who died in ordinary jails and those who died in other imprisonment forms, such as immigration detention facilities.