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What’s the situation in Malaysia?

As our immigration laws make no distinction between adults and minors (persons below 18 years old), children who violate immigration laws are subjected to the same arrest and detention conditions as adults. Children who may be detained for immigration related offences include refugee and asylum seeking minors, children of migrant parents, stateless and other undocumented children. There are currently 14 immigration detention centres in operation in the country.

In detention, children are held with adults, as there are no special facilities specifically for them. All girls (0-18 years) and boys below 12 are held in the adult women’s facility. Boys between the ages of 13-18 will be held in the adult male facility. Male children above 12 who are arrested with their mothers will be separated from them in detention. Children in detention have limited access to healthcare and no access to education or play.

Immigration detention officers have acknowledged that they are not equipped to handle children and agree that children should not be detained. There are currently limited standard operating procedures in place within detention centres to provide special care, protection and treatment for children.

Release from detention varies for children based upon their legal status. It can take between two to six months for unregistered asylum seeking children to be released from detention by UNHCR intervention. Children whose nationality/country of origin is not known will remain in detention indefinitely. Apart from interventions by UNHCR, there is no other systematic Alternative to Detention (ATD) mechanisms available in Malaysia to prevent detention of children. To the best of our knowledge, there are no specific organizations working solely to address the needs of unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in the country using a holistic case management approach.

1,196 children below 18 years old were held in detention centres across the country in September 2014.
(SUHAKAM, 2014 Annual Report, 2015, p.49. Available at: http://www.suhakam.org.my/pusat-media/sumber/laporan-tahunan/)
43% of children in detention are below 12 years old.
(SUHAKAM, 2014 Annual Report, 2015, p.49. Available at: http://www.suhakam.org.my/pusat-media/sumber/laporan-tahunan/)
On average, approximately 10% of children in detention are unaccompanied or separated from their parents/guardian

Effects on children

Harsh conditions in immigration detention have a significant impact on the developmental and psychological wellbeing of children. Children in immigration detention, even for a short period, face significant physical and mental health issues, including developmental delays, malnutrition, inability to sleep, and overall poor health. Children faced with prolonged detention may suffer from serious medical conditions, chronic stress, other psychiatric and anxiety-related conditions, are unable to develop holistically in a supportive environment, and lack positive coping mechanisms. Children, especially boys held in the male facility, are also at risk for violence, trauma and abuse.

What is SUKA doing?

In response to the above, SUKA Society with other civil society partners have been advocating for the setting up of alternatives to immigration detention for children that will potentially lead to the non-detention of children for immigration related offences.

A formal working group was set up in June 2014 between the National Human Rights Agency (SUHAKAM), government agencies and civil society organizations to operationalize ATDs specifically for UASC’s in immigration detention. SUKA Society being a member of the working group proposed an ATD Model in the form of a temporary NGO shelter pending community placement/family reunification with follow up case management services. Discussions are currently focused on the legality of release and finalizing standard operating procedures for the ATD.

To ensure effective implementation of the shelter and case management project, we are also currently carrying out a mapping exercise to map NGOs and community based organizations capacity and assets as well as potential for collaboration.

In line with this, we are continuing our training for officers in immigration detention centres around the country. The self-development training provides officers with the tools to manage their stress and emotions, and increases their skills sets to ensure that they have the ability and temperament to manage children under their care.

To address the limited support for children affected by detention, we have also implemented a case management program for these minors. The program will identify the protection needs of children, develop a case management and referral system with other partners to address these needs, and build the capacity of the community to be more child friendly.

How can you help?

Assist in our case management program for children affected by detention by providing welfare support such as food, clothing, bedding, and school materials.
Develop and implement mentorship programs for unaccompanied and separated minors affected by detention.
Participate in our activities & events related to children affected by detention.
Volunteer in refugee community learning centres.