KL orders probe of illegals’ deaths

Malaysian authorities to investigate angry allegations by Jakarta and Manila that several deportees died.

THE Malaysian government has ordered an investigation into the reported deaths of Filipino illegal immigrants deported from the country – even as fresh disclosures came from Jakarta that at least 19 Indonesians have died in holding camps in East Kalimantan.

The Straits Times understands that Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Abdullah Badawi has asked for reports on the matter from both the Immigration Department and the police.

Malaysian authorities have referred to reports of eight Filipinos having died from extreme heat and dehydration, but it has yet to be established whether the deaths occured at detention centres in Sabah, or while the deportees were travelling home in Philippine naval ships.

The authorities in Manila say that at least 12 people have died, including several infants.

Malaysia’s official position remains that all illegal immigrants awaiting deportation are given sufficient food and water, and are free to walk about at detention centres.

But government sources said that if the probe shows that conditions were not up to the mark, Malaysia will be prepared to accept responsibility and improve the process.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told the Associated Press that the authorities were doing everything possible to safeguard the well-being of deportees.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople summoned Malaysia’s ambassador on Tuesday to express concern over the alleged mistreatment of deportees, and some legislators want to see stronger action – including talks between President Gloria Arroyo and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

But official sources said the Malaysian government was not going to budge on tough new laws aimed at tackling the illegal immigrant problem. These took effect this month after an amnesty for overstayers expired on July 31.

Overstayers nabbed by the authorities will face mandatory caning and a jail term, despite protests from Indonesia and the Philippines, a source said.

As for the reported deaths of 19 Indonesians from malaria, dengue fever and dysentery in East Kalimantan, sources said that it was not yet an issue for the government. One source pointed out that the reported deaths appear to have occured while the deportees were in Indonesian territory.

Reports of the deaths emerged from the port town of Nunukan, where some 25,000 illegal Indonesian workers are stranded.

Nunukan’s Vice-Regent, Mr Kasmir Foret, told The Straits Times that most of the 19 died over the past month. At least 20 others were warded in a local hospital and said to be in critical condition.

‘Many fell sick in Malaysia and their conditions worsened when they were making their way back to Indonesia by road and sea,’ he said.

‘They were staying in very poor conditions and did not get proper medication.’

The emerging rift between Malaysia and Indonesia over illegal workers and their deportation forced Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to step in to defuse the row. An aide quoted her as saying on Tuesday that long-standing ties with Kuala Lumpur should not be damaged by emotional reactions from either side.

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