PETALING JAYA: Civil society group Tenaganita has raised the alarm over the Immigration Department’s decision to continue holding two Filipino toddlers in one of its detention centres despite intervention by the Philippine embassy and a deputy minister.
Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said the babies, who were undocumented at the time and under the care of a relative, were detained during an immigration raid at Plaza Indah Apartment Kajang on the night of June 14.
She said that their mothers, who have valid visas, were not at home.
The babies have been kept at the Bukit Jalil immigration detention centre since then.
Their mothers were informed by immigration authorities that the babies could be sent back to the Philippines if travel documents were to be issued by the embassy.
“Tenaganita has been reliably informed that the embassy is ready to provide the travel documents once the deportation papers for the babies have been received from the Immigration Department,” Glorene said in a statement today.
An investigation officer from the department’s Investigation and Enforcement Unit confirmed that the deportation order and other necessary documents were prepared and sent to the detention centre on June 27.
But despite repeated inquiries by the mothers and the lawyer appointed by the embassy, the detention centre had maintained that it had no knowledge of the deportation order, she said.
They are also awaiting instructions from Putrajaya, Glorene said.
“This lack of communication and coordination between the different units in the Immigration Department, either intentionally or because of internal procedures, is distressing,” she said.
“Tenaganita would like to point out that holding children and babies at detention centres violates the spirit of the Convention On The Rights of the Child (Article 37 b, c.) to which Malaysia is a party.
“The convention requires that the best interests of the child are given paramount importance.”
Noting that the continued detention of the toddlers violated the Child Act 2001, she said the babies had been deprived of the care of their mothers and held in “less than hospitable conditions” for the last 20 days.
“We would, therefore, urge that this matter be treated with urgency and that the babies be handed over to the custody of their mothers or any shelters which are better equipped to care for the toddlers/babies until the Immigration Department is able to provide the necessary documents for the babies to be deported.
“No babies and toddlers should be in any detention or holding centres,” she said. “We demand their immediate release”.
Glorene said Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh had also tried to intervene but the decision to hold the children stands.
She called for a review of the internal Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the Immigration Department to ensure speedy deportation of detainees.
She noted that the immigration director-general recently said that the cost of maintaining detainees at such centres could be reduced if their travel documents could be prepared quickly.
But she said the facts of this case and other cases handled by Tenaganita did not reflect this view.
“We have also received reports and cases on the intolerable and inhumane conditions of detention centres.
“In fact, immigration detention officers have acknowledged that they are not equipped to handle children and agree that children should not be detained,” she claimed.