Suhakam: Budget 2018 must address problems of refugees, detention centres

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PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) wants the upcoming Budget 2018 to include adequate provisions to ensure that the welfare of refugees and the requirements for proper running of detention centres are met.

Its chairman Razali Ismail said the annual financial plan scheduled to be tabled by Prime Minister Najib Razak in the Dewan Rakyat on Oct 23 must be a human rights-based national budget, encompassing economic, social and cultural rights.

“The national budget is core to the country’s national policy and planning, and the government must manifest clear commitment to various aspects of the realisation of human rights in this budget,” he said.

In a statement today, he said there must be adequate financial resources to fund the provision of refugee and asylum seeker assistance.

He said this was particularly in light of the current situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state which has seen a mass exodus of ethnic Rohingya Muslims to Malaysia where the refugee population has increased.

The budget also needs to ensure financial resources for the management of detention centres, including infrastructure, nutrition, health and safety, appointments of medical doctors at every facility, as well as sanitation, he added.

“The national budget would disappoint many if the budget fails to ensure appropriate priority given to critical areas such as education for all children, Malaysian and non-Malaysian alike,” he said, adding that healthcare, housing and employment provisions should also be addressed.

It is estimated that Malaysia hosts around 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, more than a third of whom are Rohingya fleeing the violence in Rakhine.

In March this year, documents from Suhakam were reported to have shown that at least 118 foreigners had died in 2015 and 2016 in the country’s immigration detention centres from various diseases and unknown causes.

Jerald Joseph, one of eight commissioners of Suhakam, had said that the conditions at the centres were “appalling” and that the deaths should be investigated as a criminal matter.

The illnesses that led to some of the deaths may have been caused or exacerbated by poor sanitation and food, physical abuse and a lack of medical attention, he had said.

Razali today also called on the government to ensure the specific needs of disabled persons are sufficiently considered in Budget 2018.

He said there must be compliance with relevant standards for the disabled in keeping with the vision of a progressive nation that works for everyone.

He added that significant allocation for indigenous people should also be made towards the realisation of their land rights.

The budget needs to also include allocations for free and periodic health screening and immunisaton for all national enforcement personnel, including the police, immigration officers, prison officers, and army and national security officers, he said.

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