Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Documentary prompts report on detention centres

PUTRAJAYA: The Home Ministry is giving departments until February to produce a thorough report concerning refugee detention centres.

This follows a documentary by Al Jazeera, which highlighted the ill-treatment of refugees in the country and raised questions about Malaysia’s attitude towards politically-repressed groups.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told theNew Straits Times that the ministry outlined four areas that would be the focus of the report.

The areas include the diet of refugees in detention centres, overcrowding of centres, welfare of children and corruption among officials, which were highlighted in the documentary, Malaysia’s Unwanted.

“I had called for a meeting with the police, the Immigration Department, Prisons Department officials and authorities. The issues of concern will be addressed and research will be done next month at the earliest.

“On the matter of the refugees’ diet, we will consult with the Health Ministry on what should be served, whether it is a balanced diet and sufficient for the number of refugees in each centre.”

Wan Junaidi, however, denied allegations in the documentary that meals were served only twice a day in detention centres.

“As far as I am concerned, they are given five meals a day. However, I am waiting for confirmation on this.”

Wan Junaidi urged for a benchmark, similar to the Prisons Department, to be introduced in detention centres to address overcrowding.

“All 12 detention centres nationwide have vacancies, so we are not overcrowded. At the speed we are sending them (refugees), we can sustain the ones coming in.”

On the welfare of children in the centres, Wan Junaidi said the placement of a child, whether with his parents, depended on the child’s age and the consent of the parents.

“Children between 1 and 3 are placed with their mothers, unless the mother decides otherwise. In that case, the child can be placed under the care of family, friends or even the Welfare Department outside of the centre.

“I would like the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to work with us. Once I show them the data, they will take over cases like these.

“For children between 3 and 4, the mother will be asked to fill a form stating whether she wants her child to be with her or placed outside the centre with the Welfare Department under the Women’s Ministry.”

“We have to rely on the parents of the child as their consent is needed in any situation,” he said.

The final area that the ministry wanted addressed is corruption among officials. 

“I have informed the Immigration Department director-general that every report must be investigated by the police. I do not want the department to investigate because other agencies, like the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, will be involved.

“The department head and even the minister himself is aware that the Integrity Unit in the Immigration Department needs to be strengthened.

“Again, I am calling on the department to follow the standard operating procedures of the Prisons Department because they are comprehensive and abide by the statutes passed by Parliament on the Prevention of Crime Act 2013.”

Wan Junaidi said he was hopeful refugees would be given alternative jobs. 

“The ministry is discussing with American companies operating locally to hire them. The reason being that, if we hire them in local sectors, we would be seen as recognising their refugee status, not to mention inviting complaints from locals who are seeking employment.”

A ministry source said Malaysia was not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees because anyone could then enter the country claiming to be politically persecuted.

“The demand of this convention is that we must give them (refugees) everything they need, employment, for example. By doing so, everybody will claim to be a refugee