Saifuddin’s denial that children are being detained in immigration depots contradicts his previous admission

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the home minister’s criticism of the claims in the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that claimed over 1,400 children were detained at immigration detention centres nationwide.

It is appalling and unacceptable that Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s response is to go on the defensive and simply dismiss the claims that children are still being detained at detention centres.

These are serious allegations that warrant a serious investigation, not a knee-jerk denial and a pretence that all is well.

HRW is an organisation that has consistently supported the rule of law and civil liberties in Malaysia. When HRW staunchly spoke up for Anwar Ibrahim when he was prosecuted by the Barisan Nasional government, Pakatan Harapan praised and welcomed HRW.

It is hypocritical for the PH-led government to disparage the veracity of HRW, now that it is in government and on the receiving end of criticism.

In fact, on 3 October 2023, Saifuddin himself stated there were 846 boys and 653 girls in immigration ‘depots’ nationwide as of 28 September 2023. Thus, the total of 1,499 children is even higher than HRW’s number. Unicef also quoted the same numbers in its “Malaysia Country Office Annual Report 2023”.

With what effrontery does Saifuddin now deny HRW’s claim?

His umbrage at HRW’s assertion on the number of children in detention is baseless and stems either from a lapse of memory or is a false statement to escape criticism over the treatment of children. Either way, it is a gross misstatement of facts by a minister.

The clear and obvious fact is that the PH-led government has failed to halt the increasing xenophobic crackdowns on migrants and refugees by enforcement bodies.

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This is in direct contradiction to the promises made by PH while it was in opposition, such as the promise to ratify the 1951 refugees convention in its political manifesto, as the HRW report pointed out.

Unfortunately, the PH-led government is moving further and further away from those promises. Its handling of undocumented migrants is callous and in breach of international human rights standards.

In short, bare denials from the home minister are inadequate to address the serious facts presented by HRW.

In the interests of transparency, LFL asks that the government immediately allow full and unimpeded access to Suhakam to conduct a fact-finding mission to the immigration detention centres to ascertain the number of children in immigration detention centres and the conditions in which they are held. – LFL

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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