Lawyers for Liberty refers to the shocking news that over 528 Rohingyans have fled a temporary immigration detention depot in Relau, Bandar Baharu, Kedah yesterday.
The elephant in the room that needs to be addressed is the fact that the authorities detained hundreds of Rohingyans, who are deemed as refugees and asylum seekers, in a temporary immigration depot.
There is no discernible reason why so many of them were cramped into a makeshift depot in the first place, seeing as they could not possibly be deported back to their home country by the principle of non-refoulement.
This principle, which prohibits any country from returning individuals to a country where they would face torture, cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment renders it impossible for the Rohingyas to be sent back to their country, lest the government wishes to run afoul of international law.
We also remind the government that immigration detention depots, according to Section 34(1) of the Immigration Act 1959/63, can only detain a person for such period as is necessary for making arrangements for their removal. The law does not allow for indefinite detention at immigration depots, as would be the case for the Rohingyas.
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Having been elected to the UN Humans Rights Council, Malaysia should have complied with international norms and standards. The act of detaining refugees and asylum seekers in bulk to the point where a temporary detention depot had to be created is truly appalling behaviour that strips away any of the government’s credibility in the Human Rights Council – more so since children were reportedly also part of those who were detained.
We have repeatedly called against the detention of Rohingyas by the immigration authorities.
The responsibility for the current predicament lies solely on the shoulders of the government, who wilfully ignored the advice of many NGOs and stakeholders and continuously incarcerates refugees and asylum seekers into cramped detention centres. The blood of the Rohingyas who died whilst on the run, who included at least two children, is on the government’s hand.
We urgently call for the government to cease the manhunt against these Rohingyas, whose only crime was that they were forcibly driven out of their country.
The government must also immediately release all other refugees and asylum seekers from their detention centres to avoid this calamity from happening again.
If Malaysia truly wishes to play a significant role in the Human Rights Council, the government must lead by example and treat the Rohingyas as victims, not offenders.
Zaid Malek is chief cooordinator of Lawyers for Liberty