KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 — The Home Ministry could put in place a pilot programme that would provide temporary foster care for unaccompanied and separated children under detention, with the focus given toward child mental health support.
The “Alternative to Detention” programme had started out as migrant communities organising to free their loved ones, with its advocates offering refuge to newly arriving immigrants.
But some rights groups alleged the programme has been co-opted and turned into an alternative form of detention that is no less harsh and cruel to prisons.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said in a parliamentary written reply to Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman (Barisan Nasional) that ATD were among several initiatives planned to address detention of minors in the immigration depots.
“Among the measures adopted by the government to deal with the issue including the mental health development of children in the immigration detention centres is the (planned) implementation of the pilot ATD programme,” the reply said.
“The pilot project that was proposed to be implemented is a form of alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children in the immigration depots where these children will receive protection and child support based on family care,” it added.
The ATD project will be spearheaded by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.
The ministry has prepared the standard operating procedure that would be adopted by the Immigration Department, according to Hamzah.
“The Home Ministry through the Immigration Department is committed to collaborate and ensure the success of the launch,” he said.
Azalina, whose party is a member of the ruling pact, had asked the Home Ministry to state the government’s official position on detention of children.
Hamzah did not state if the government would repeal laws that would allow minors to be put in detention centres.
The Malaysian government has been harshly criticised for its handling of local migrant and refugee communities.
Despite the dozens of reports documenting abuses inflicted on migrants and refugees having been published by local and international watchdogs, human rights observers said Putrajaya has made little commitment to reform its immigration policies.
Among the violations that have been reported include arbitrary detention and physical abuse.
There are 1,475 minors in detention as of October this year, accounting close to a tenth of the 19,700 over detainees currently held in the immigration detention centres nationwide, Hamzah said in the written reply.
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