Chinese nationals reveal 'skin-crawling ordeal' in M'sian detention centre By Ng Xiang Yi
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Malaysiakini : However, what they faced upon taking their jobs were long working
hours, low pay and a dangerous working environment. After several
months, the five decided to return home.
however, proved to be a problem because their employer had their
passports. So out of desperation, the five contacted a local “snakehead”
(smuggler), who was fluent in Chinese.
The “snakehead” convinced them the risks were minimal and the five
could secure legal travel documents in Malaysia as long as they were
willing to fork out some cash.
Wei said after fleeing from their
factory, they boarded a flight from Kendari in Southeast Sulawesi to
Jakarta and then made their way to Batam Island, some 15 nautical miles
from Singapore. After a few days, they moved to another island nearby.
process (in Indonesia) is that as long as you have money, anything can
be done. When we took the flight, we did not have to queue or go through
security checks and Covid-19 tests,” he claimed.
Due to this, the five were convinced that things would proceed smoothly until they reached China.
when the Malaysian authorities spotted us, I thought I was going to
die. The episode still sends a shiver when I think about it,” Wei said,
recalling the 3,000km journey.
After being detained at the Setia
Tropika Immigration Office for more than 20 days, the five were
transferred to the Pekan Nanas Immigration Depot.
Severe skin infections
about the conditions at the detention centre, Wei said he suffered from
itchiness and pustules. He claimed that it was difficult to get
medication from the officers.
It has been five months since Wei
returned to China but his body remains covered in red marks, an
unsightly reminder of his ordeal in Malaysia.
Guo, who was the last among the five to be repatriated, suffered the most serious skin infection.
our bodies cannot adapt to a new environment... those little white
pustules or eczema that developed were torturous and unbearable. The
body was always itchy. The biggest problem is getting medicine,” he
Guo said when he scratched the infected areas in the absence of medication to subdue the itch, the condition worsened.
was also afraid to bathe, fearing he would contract some other illness.
So he used what little drinking water he could spare to cleanse
“Only two or three ladles were provided to scoop the
water but there were 20 to 30 people bathing at the same time. So we
could only use our hands to scoop the water.
“I was shocked when I
saw their bodies, there were boils and skin ulcers all over, including
on their private parts and they were also using their hands to scoop the
water,” he added.
'I was fortunate'
his last few months in detention, Guo was transferred to a smaller cell
where he had access to tap water. However, the skin infection persisted
due to unsanitary conditions.
According to him, the inmates slept
on the concrete floor because the wooden beds were infested with
insects. Even on the floor, they were not spared.
During his eight-month detention, Guo claimed he was only taken for treatment twice.
this, the Chinese national considered himself “fortunate” because the
skin infections of other inmates were worse and there was no chance for
them to see a doctor.
“Our lawyer brought medication but the
medical assistant and officers didn't let me have them until the
infection became serious. Sometimes, they used this medication for the
others as well,” he claimed.
Lawyer Lau Yi Leong had acted for the
five on a pro-bono basis. The men were sent back to China in batches
since last December, with Guo being the last to return in May this year.
During their detention, Lau told Malaysiakini that he only met the five, in person, once due to not having access. They often communicated through the telephone.
men could not speak any other language. So it was up to me to convey
their situation, including about their skin infections, to the
Immigration Department,” he added.
Lau lamented that lawyers and
human rights groups had no knowledge about what was happening within the
detention centre as the place was "under the radar".
the Immigration official who handled the case was professional and
patient. Despite the restrictions and red tapes, we were able to send
them back in such a short period,” he said.
Scabies outbreak menace
In a statement last February, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that scabies was a major health problem in detention centres across the world, including Malaysia.
ICRC and the Immigration Department have teamed up for a scabies
mitigation campaign covering all immigration detention centres and
temporary detention centres nationwide.
Meanwhile, a report released
by the Sovereign Migrant Workers Coalition (Koalisi Buruh Migran
Berdaulat) in October 2020 revealed that Indonesian migrants detained at
temporary detention centres in Sabah endured cruel and inhumane
At the same time, Suhakam repeatedly highlighted the scabies outbreak in detention centres in its annual reports.
In its 2019 annual report, the commission said there was a severe problem of scabies at the Machap Umboo Immigration Depot and medicines were inadequate.
report also stated that bath soap, laundry detergent and toothpaste
were only provided once to detainees. This was also a contributory
factor to skin diseases such as scabies.
Wei and Guo also experienced the same predicament. The pair had to later pay for other necessities.
Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said the commission previously had
set up an interagency committee that included the Health Ministry and
ICRC to tackle the scabies outbreak in detention settings.
previous meetings, I think everyone acknowledged the health issues and
they agreed to look for solutions like better medicine and clean
mattresses,” Jerald recalled.
Commenting on Wei and Guo being
allegedly ignored over their requests for medication, he said: “If true,
this is serious. I must ask them to submit a complaint to Suhakam or
other agencies in order to start an investigation.
“Every prison and Immigration Depot has a doctor or medical assistant. Treatment is a basic right,” Jerald added.
Malaysiakini has contacted the Immigration Department for comment.