ASYLUM SEEKERS and refugees are being kept in squalid, abusive conditions and at least two dozen have died in Malaysian immigration detention since 2015, says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“They gave us only one small cup of water with our meals, otherwise we had to drink toilet water,” a female 18-year-old Rohingya toldThe Guardian. “Only when someone was about to die would the guards come. Otherwise, if we complained, or if we asked to go to the hospital, they beat us.”
Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) reports that conditions are so bad in detention that they are “torture-like,” with inmates denied adequate food, water and medical treatment.
Refugees typically work illegally in informal work as cleaners, construction workers or in hospitality. Labour rights abuses including the denial of wages are reportedly widespread.
Late last year the Malaysian government announced a pilot scheme in partnership with UNHCR to allow 300 Rohingya refugees to work, lauded by many as a step forward for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers there.
Nevertheless, “whether this pilot will translate into something more meaningful, such as work rights for all refugees registered with the UNHCR: better access to health services; education for the more than 30,000 children under the age of 18; and, less discrimination by authorities, remains to be seen,” wrote Dr Gerhard Hoffstaedter from the University of Queensland, an expert on migration issues in Malaysia.