Malaysia’s home ministry admitted yesterday to poor standards at detention centers for illegal migrants and trafficking victims, after a report labeled them “ticking time bombs.”
The New Straits Times said that most of the 13 detention centers were not secure and that the detainee population of 7,000 — of which it said more than half were “hardcore criminals” — often found it easy to escape.
“On a scale of one to 10, security at these camps is rated at only three,” it quoted immigration director-general Abdul Rahman Othman as saying.
“These camps are old and do not have proper security installations to house detainees,” he said according to the daily, which said some detainees were murderers and rapists awaiting deportation after serving jail time.
The home ministry’s top civil servant Mahmood Adam said it was developing a plan to tackle the situation and that a committee had been set up to review conditions.
“The situation in some of these depots are bad and the places are in urgent need of improvement,” he told reporters.
Problems were highlighted by the case earlier this month of 20 Afghans, victims of a human trafficking syndicate, who escaped from the Kuala Lumpur airport immigration depot by cutting through security grilles.
“Previously, only one agency like the police or immigration were in charge of the depots and there were lapses in managing the depots, which is what led to the recent escape earlier this month,” Mahmood said.
“As of the August incident, there are now five agencies working together to administer and run the depots so the situation should improve as everyone is working together instead of independently,” he said.
The home ministry boss said that anti-climbing fences and CCTV cameras will be installed at detention centers and that a report would be sent to Cabinet soon on further upgrading and security measures required.
“We must realize that these people in the depots are human beings and that they are also not prisoners. They must be treated humanely, they are not in prison so they shouldn’t be treated like they are,” he said.
Immigration activists say Malaysia is often used as a staging post for trafficking gangs moving people from Afghanistan and Myanmar to Indonesia and Australia.
And with one of Asia’s largest populations of foreign labor, Malaysia relies on some 2.2 million migrants to clean homes, care for children and work in plantations and factories.>