Joint Press Statement: Immigration Detention Centres: How many more must die?

On 3 September 2009, it was reported that a Burmese detainee at KLIA Immigration Detention Centre died on 29 August 2009 due to an unknown illness and six other detainees with similar symptoms were hospitalised at Putrajaya General Hospital[1]. On 25 September 2009, it was reported that six Burmese detainees have died at an undisclosed detention centre allegedly due to Leptospirosis[2]. Leptospirosis is an infectious disease that occurs due to water or food contaminated by animal urine.

Last month, it was reported that a Togolese detainee died in the same detention centre due to Influenza A(H1N1)[3]. In May this year, two Burmese asylum seekers died at Juru Immigration Detention Centre also due to Leptospirosis, an infectious disease that occurs due to contaminated water or food. In April, it was reported that deaths of two detainees occurred at Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre, where a Bangladeshi migrant worker died days after being tortured by the Malaysian police and another Liberian was found dead with an unrevealed cause of death[4].

We, the undersigned organisations, are deeply disturbed that more deaths have occurred in immigration detention centres and concrete actions to prevent such events have yet to be taken. We have repeatedly highlighted the dire conditions in detention centres such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, insufficient provision of food and water, and inadequate access to necessary medical and health services (including emergency care, treatment for infectious diseases and maternal health services). How many more detainees must be deprived of their right to life before the Malaysian Government will make the necessary changes to improve the conditions in detention centres?

Following the outbreak of Leptospirosis at Juru Immigration Detention Centre, the Ministry of Health’s actions in containing the outbreak was commendable. However, the Ministry should have seized the opportunity to play a more proactive role in cooperating with the Immigration Department to monitor conditions in all detention centres, to ensure that adequate sanitary and hygiene standards are maintained and to develop proper medical and health services. The recent six deaths prove yet again that conditions in detention centres are in a dire state and urgently need to be addressed.

Deaths in custody cannot to be taken lightly. The Government, especially the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Health, must account for the deaths.

As such, we call for the following:

1.      The Magistrate to conduct an inquest into the death of the Burmese detainee who died on 29 August 2009, the six Burmese detainees and all other deaths in immigration detention centres.

2.      The Immigration Department and the Ministry of Health to immediately make public the results of the post-mortem of all the deceased and to take immediate precautionary steps to prevent the disease from spreading to other detainees if it is infectious.

3.      The Ministry of Health to monitor all immigration detention centres nationwide and to cooperate closely with the Immigration Department to establish access to health care services including prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

4.      The Ministry of Health to set up permanent clinics at immigration detention centres.  The clinics should be equipped with a full time medical doctor and male and female medical assistants and with adequate facilities to be able to address first line treatment needs of detainees and make referrals for medical emergencies and second line treatment.

5.      The Ministry of Health include foreign workers and refugees in health prevention program by developing health education materials and information outreach programs in their respective languages, especially with  regard to H1N1 and dengue which are currently health concerns in the country. 

6.      The monitoring of immigration detention centres be included in the Ministry of Health's efforts to address H1N1.

7.      The Government to immediately stop arrests and detention of refugees and asylum seekers and to release all detained refugees and asylum seekers. The Government should adopt laws and regulations for the recognition and protection of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons.

8.      A Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate and review practices and policies relating immigration detention especially deaths, conditions of detention centres, detention period, treatment of detainees, the role of RELA, and unnecessary detention of irregular migrants, especially children, pregnant women, the physically and mentally ill, and other vulnerable migrants.

Endorsed by the following members of the Migration Working Group and the Northern Network for Migrants and Refugees (Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian, JUMP):

A Call to Service (ACTS)

Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM)

Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)

Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese of Human Development (AOHD)

Malaysia Bar Council Human Rights Committee

Malaysian Care

 Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)

Micah Mandate 

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

Penang Office for Human Development (POHD)

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)


The National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)


[1] Malaysiakini (2009) ‘Mystery illness: One dead, six warded’, 3 September, at, accessed 4 September 2009.

[2] Straits Times (2009) ‘Migrants die in detention’, 25 September, at, accessed 25 September 2009.

[3] The Malay Mail (2009) ‘H1N1 Flu: Lockdown in KLIA detention centre’, 6 August, at, accessed 4 September 2009.

[4] Migration Working Group (2009) ‘Deaths and Conditions of Detention of Migrants and Refugees, 24 April.



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