Not NGOs' job to pay for migrants’ detention, Suhakam chief tells minister

Alyaa Alhadjri
·2-min read
Not NGOs' job to pay for migrants’ detention, Suhakam chief tells minister
Not NGOs' job to pay for migrants’ detention, Suhakam chief tells minister

The role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) does not extend to covering the costs of keeping undocumented migrants in detention centres here, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said today.

Instead, Suhakam chairperson Mah Weng Kwai (above) reminded Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin that NGOs only play an advocacy role to highlight issues for the government’s attention.

"We must understand the role of NGOs and CSOs (coalition of civil society organisations). Their role is to advocate.

"Their role is to bring matters to the notice of the government, create awareness and so on," Mah said at a press conference after a Suhakam stakeholder consultation in Kuala Lumpur on forced labour issues in the construction industry.

"They have done their job. Their job doesn't extend to providing money to accommodate undocumented workers," he added.

Similarly, Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said any government of the day must find ways to manage all people in its territory regardless of their status.

"If someone does wrong, of course, they will be arrested, charged, and be brought to proper processes. In that process there is cost.

"But as the government of the day, and the government uses the people's money to manage, to throw it (responsibility) back to NGOs? The NGOs are not even featured in this," he said.

"I can understand if the numbers are high, and it is an added cost burden to the government.

"But it is not just the Malaysian government. In every jurisdiction, it is the duty of the state to manage all people in its territories," said Jerald.

Hamzah yesterday said Malaysia would continue deporting undocumented migrants in accordance with national laws.

Hamzah also mocked NGOs for being critical of the government's efforts, saying that they could cover all related costs if they really wanted to keep the detained migrants here.

His remarks followed the protest by Amnesty International Malaysia (AI-M) against an Immigration Department's move to deport 1,086 Myanmar nationals on Feb 23, despite the Kuala Lumpur High Court ordering the exercise to be put on hold.

AI-M, together with Asylum Access Malaysia, had filed the lawsuit over concerns that there are asylum seekers and minors with parents in Malaysia among the deportees.

This is in view of the ongoing violence in Myanmar following a military coup in February and persecution against the Rohingya community.

The Immigration Department claimed no refugees were being deported, but the NGOs want the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to be allowed access to the deportees to verify the claim.

The UNHCR had been denied access to all immigration detention centres since August 2019.