UNHCR shocked by reported deaths of asylum-seekers after riot at immigration depot in Malaysia

UNHCR is shocked and deeply saddened by the reported deaths of six asylum-seekers, including two children, who tragically died while attempting to escape from the Sungai Bakap temporary immigration depot in the northern Malaysian state of Penang, in the early morning of 20 April 2022. We convey our sincere condolences to the families of the victims.

UNHCR is also concerned about the incident at the temporary immigration depot that led to the six deaths, where over 500 detainees – many of whom are reported to be ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar - escaped following reported riots at the depot.

At this time, UNHCR does not have any information regarding the incident or the individuals involved, in particular as we have not received approval from the immigration authorities to access any immigration detention centres in Malaysia since August 2019. This has unfortunately prevented UNHCR in seeing detained persons of concern in order to determine those in need of international protection and to advocate for their release.

We are aware and concerned that there remains in the Sg Bakap immigration depot, as well as all other immigration detention facilities around Malaysia, detained persons of concern, including vulnerable individuals, requiring our attention.

UNHCR, together with civil society partners, also stands ready to support the Government to develop alternatives to immigration detention, in particular for vulnerable individuals including children and the elderly and to assist in assessing the international protection needs of detainees who may require access to asylum.

 Depriving individuals of their liberty in order to deter others from entering the country is unlawful, inhumane and ineffective. Seeking asylum is not an unlawful act. In all cases detention should be a measure of last resort, should be authorized by the law and only undertaken if necessary and reasonable in all the circumstances, and proportionate to a legitimate aim. Alternatives to detention need to be considered prior to resorting to detention.