Group calls for independent probe into Sungai Bakap breakout, cites unconfirmed reports of custodial death

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MAGM also asked the government to grant the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Suhakam access to all immigration detention centres to interview the remaining detainees, and inspect conditions at the centre. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
MAGM also asked the government to grant the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Suhakam access to all immigration detention centres to interview the remaining detainees, and inspect conditions at the centre. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, April 21 — The Malaysian Advisory Group on Myanmar (MAGM) has urged the government to conduct an independent inquiry into the escape of 528 Rohingya detainees from the Sungai Bakap Immigration Detention Depot.

In a statement today, MAGM said the government also should make the facts surrounding the incident publicly known and, if needed, hold those responsible accountable.

“There are unconfirmed reports that the protests, or riots as the authorities term it, and the subsequent escape was triggered by the death of a fellow Rohingya detainee who had not been given adequate medical treatment when he was ill,” it said.

After breaking out yesterday, six of those on the escapees — two men, two women, a girl, and a boy — died in a road accident as they tried to cross a nearby highway.

Authorities have confirmed the capture of 362 escapees, while a manhunt for the remainder continues.

The Kedah police has since announced that it will investigate the breakout, including what caused the incident.

“It must be reiterated that Rohingya who seek a safe haven in Malaysia are genocide victims. Therefore, it is a gross act of natural injustice to criminalise victims of crimes against humanity.

“Indeed, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the Malaysia Bar and others have, for many years, called for an end to the detention of refugees, invariably in overcrowded and under-resourced immigration detention centres, which traumatise and harm women and children,” said MAGM.

It noted that last month, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said said 208 people had died in immigration custody between 2018 and February 15, 2022.

MAGM also asked the government to grant the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Suhakam access to all immigration detention centres to interview the remaining detainees, and inspect conditions at the centre.

“Thirdly, work with the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur to undertake refugee status determination (RSD) for all those in detention who have not undergone it.

“Fourth, release all detainees who, after RSD, qualify for a UNHCR card together with administrative conditions and supervision.

“Fifth, include Rohingya in the government’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) for children pilot project that officially started in February 2022,” it added.

The Rohingya are an ethnic group, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have been exiled from Myanmar following a long history of discrimination there.

Although in 2016, the Muslim-majority population of Malaysia initially welcomed Rohignya refugees, in recent years, the local sentiment and government approach towards the refugee community has become increasingly hostile.

Malaysia is currently not a signatory of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and local laws offer refugees little protection or differentiation from illegal immigrants.

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