An Indonesian NGO’s report on immigration detention centers in Malaysia was just released, detailing the inhuman conditions of the centers, located in the state of Sabah. According to the Sovereign Migrant Workers Coalition (KBMB), 149 Indonesian citizens died at the five centers in the past year and a half.

‘Conditions to create terror’

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) cites numerous cases of detainees being denied medical treatment, leading to their deaths. One, a man with down syndrome, was offered “no health support even though he had been sick for an extended period.”

Interviews with detainees claim “constant physical abuse up to death.” When Suardi Bin Samsudin, a migrant worker attempted to escape, officers beat him “with their bare hands, stones, and an iron pipe to his chest and head” according to TEMPO.CO. The inmate died of his injuries.

In April, Al Jazeera reported six people including two children were killed crossing a highway after escaping a detention center. 528 people fled the facility, but most were recaptured by authorities.

The KBMB report details brutal living conditions for the detainees:

Skin disease

  • “Infants, children, adults, and the elderly suffer from skin diseases, especially scabies. Many were severely ill.”
  • Officers would sell detainees necessary medicines for more than 10x their normal price, though belongings were confiscated.

Cramped quarters

  • Holding blocks about the size of half a tennis court would hold 200-260 people, with only three toilet holes.
  • Many suffered from severe diarrhea, needing “to defecate up to 6-10 times a day.”

Detained women and children

  • Children are held in the same blocks as adults, violating international law.
  • “Babies under five years old only get two diapers per month. They also never receive the necessary food and milk for children.”
  • “It is virtually impossible to maintain hygiene and avoid various infections,” leading to miscarriages and menstrual disorders
  • “Each female detainee is only given two sanitary napkins when entering immigration detention.”

Abu Mafakhir, an activist with the KBMB, said the Malaysian Home Ministry allows “conditions to create terror, so when the detainees are released they will go back and tell others about it,” according to the SCMP.

A well-documented problem

In 2018, the independent research center Global Detention Project submitted a report to the Malaysian Human Rights Council asking to reassess the immigration detention conditions in the country.

In 2017, Reuters reviewed documents from the National Human Rights Commission, finding that “more than one hundred foreigners died in the past two years in Malaysia’s immigration detention centers from various diseases and unknown causes.” The Home Ministry cited budget constraints for the “appalling” conditions.

Government response

Hamzah Zainudin, Malaysia’s Home Minister, responded to the criticism of the immigration department. He said “if we detain someone who commits a crime and we put them in a depot, and then they die, who should we blame?” according to Free Malaysia Today. “Sometimes people die even while walking … They don’t even have to be in a depot. So, this should not be an issue.”

Since 2019, the Malaysian Home Ministry has prevented the United Nations’ refugee agency from visiting the centers, per Reuters.

The Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry is looking into the death of Suardi Bin Samsudin, and others in the KBMB report, according to TEMPO.CO.