PETALING JAYA: A human rights activist has urged the government to immediately release the 1,179 children of undocumented migrants who are being held in immigration depots nationwide.
Mahi Ramakrishnan of Beyond Borders told FMT the harsh conditions at the detention centres was known by all and will have an adverse effect on the well-being and mental health of these children.
While the Child Rights Convention states that a child may only be detained as “a last resort and for the shortest time possible”, Mahi said, this cannot apply to children being held simply because of their parents’ “irregular” immigration status.
“The government is also committed to the Asean Declaration on the Rights of the Child in the context of migration and cannot, therefore, rob children of their civil liberties,” she said.
Mahi said Malaysia had pledged to implement policies and legislation that would promote and protect the rights of the most vulnerable communities when applying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
“I believe this includes refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons, especially women and children, whom the government continues to hold in detention.
“At the moment, we are far behind Thailand and Indonesia, which have been releasing children into community care since 2018,” she said.
On Thursday, home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail revealed that 1,179 children were among the 15,845 undocumented migrants being held at immigration depots nationwide as of Jan 29. The detainees also included 2,683 women.
Suhakam commissioner Noor Aziah Awal said the number of children being held in immigration depots was not surprising, but she maintained that they should not be detained there.
“If the children are with their parents, deport the family to their country of origin, unless their deportation endangers their lives,” she said. “As an alternative to detention, unaccompanied children should be sent home once their parents are identified.”
North South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira called on Putrajaya to find out how these undocumented migrants had entered the country, as he believed many of them were victims of human trafficking.
Pereira also said Malaysia should give migrants the same rights that expatriates enjoyed when it came to their children, pointing out that the expatriates were allowed to bring their children into the country, but not other migrants.
“These children will not be a burden to the country if the parents are given the right to work without exploitation,” he said.