More than 115 refugees, including Rohingya Muslims, have lost their lives due to various diseases and other, unknown causes in Malaysia’s refugee detention centers over the past two years, authorities with a government-funded rights body say.
Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission made the revelation in an exclusive report reviewed by Reuters on Thursday. It said 83 people had died in 2015 and at least 35 in 2016.
More than half of those who died were reportedly from neighboring Myanmar, which is the source for tens of thousands of refugees, including Rohingya Muslims, escaping persecution by Myanmar’s authorities and its majority Buddhist population. The number of Rohingya fatalities in the camps was unclear.
Describing the living conditions at the immigration camps as “appalling,” Jerald Joseph, an official with the human rights commission, noted that, “The numbers are too many and are shocking and it calls for the overhaul of the system.”
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, according to Joseph.
He said the deaths at the Malaysian detention centers should be investigated as a criminal matter.
Thousands of migrants, including Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis, have fled their countries on boat and have arrived in neighboring Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Many are in serious need of food and water.
Myanmar is under fire by the UN and human rights groups for failing to protect the Rohingya Muslims, who have suffered from torture and repression since the country’s independence in 1948.
The Myanmarese army has recently stepped up its crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the state of Rakhine following a deadly attack on the country’s border guards in October last year. The government blamed the assault on armed Rohingyas.
Myanmar classifies Rohingya Muslims as stateless or non-citizens, a status which strips them of the right to education, work or social services.