Detained Refugees Face Poor Conditions and Possible Caning
By Salai Za Uk Ling – 3 Jan 2006 – Kuala Lumpur: Chin refugee detainees who have been placed in Pakan Nanas facility in southern Malaysia are facing poor detention conditions and are vulnerable to sickness and diseases, according to reports from relatives who visited the site yesterday.
Two weeks ago, Malaysian authorities detained 43 Chin refugees along with Rohingyas and other nationals following an immigration raid in a construction worksite in Jahor State near Singaporean border. They have since been placed in Pakan Nanas detention center where conditions are reported to be poor and overcrowded.
According to detainees who spoke to visitors yesterday, more than fifty inmates are housed in small cells with no adequate water supply and proper nutritional food. The center is reportedly infested with bedbugs and mosquitoes.
“It’s been raining in Jahor the last two weeks and inmates find it very cold during the night because they have to sleep on cement floors with a single sheet of blanket,” reports Kawl Lian Thang whose brother in-law is among the detainees. Detainees are provided only two meals a day and are allowed to bathe only once a day. He says that at least five inmates are sick without proper care and medical attention.
Pekan Nanas facility is located more than six hours away from Kuala Lumpur, making it difficult for relatives to visit detainees. So far, the Malaysian government has not granted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the detention center, despite the fact that more than 30 detainees are recognized refugees under UNHCR. Most former detainees who spent time in Pakan Nanas facility have reportedly all been whipped after Malaysian court found them guilty of illegal entering and working in the country.
“The fear among the detainees is that they will also face caning and deportation,” Thang says. “It’s only a couple of weeks since their detention, but they all look very pale and weak.”
Refugees Right to Work
Refugees recognized under UNHCR are not legally entitled to work in Malaysia. However, most refugees find employment in ‘informal sector.’ Under Malaysian law, employers who employ “illegal workers” are liable to monetary fine of up to ten thousand Ringits for each person employed.
The employer for whom detained refugees worked now face possible fine of more than 200,000 Ringits in fine for harboring and employing illegal workers. Despite shortage of domestic workforce, Malaysia continues to arrest and deport “illegal workers,” asylum seekers while importing documented workers from across the region. Malaysian government has not responded to calls by rights groups to grant work permits to refugees and asylum seekers already in the country.