Dozens of Rohingya refugees have died in Malaysian jails

Rohingya girl
A girl belonging to Rohingya Muslim community walks past a makeshift settlement on the outskirts of Jammu, May 6, 2017. Picture taken on May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

Dozens of Rohingya refugees in Malaysian jails have died over the last two years, the Guardian reported Tuesday. Refugees, most of whom were from Myanmar, claim to have been imprisoned in horrific conditions in fetid cells.

The newspaper reported that inmates were deprived of water to the extent that those imprisoned had to drink toilet-water and it was like "torture."

A dozen refugees were recently released, and they were interviewed by the Guardian, some anonymously.

"They gave us only one small cup of water with our meals, otherwise we had to drink toilet water. Only when someone was about to die would the guards come. Otherwise, if we complained, or if we asked to go to the hospital, they beat us," claimed Mouyura Begum, 18, who had been detained at a camp called Belantik for more than one year.

The report said that out of the 24 refugees who had died in captivity in Malaysia, all except two were from Myanmar. Some 90 percent of refugees in Malaysia are from Myanmar, and most died from preventable diseases, like leptospirosis, caused by the contamination of rat poison.

A spokesperson for UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Newsweek: " UNHCR's global position is that asylum seekers and refugees should not be subject to immigration detention, and if they are, this should be subject to periodic review and conditions should be in compliance with international standards."

"UNHCR encourages states to explore alternatives to detention for persons who have been determined to be in need of international protection."

Malaysia has offered assistance to the Rohingya before, and has criticized other Southeast Asian nations for not doing enough to help the displaced people. In February 2016, Malaysia sent an aid ship to Bangladesh, where 75,000 Rohingya refugees were living in Cox's Bazaar, but it met with resistance from Myanmar officials.

On March 1, Kuala Lumpur started a pilot scheme that would allow the Rohingya to work legally in Malaysia. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in February that the offer was open only to Rohingyas who are UNHCR cardholders and have had health checks.

The Rohingya would be given jobs in the plantation and manufacturing industries.

Successful applicants would be placed with selected companies in the plantation and manufacturing industries. "They will be able to gain skills and income to make a living before being relocated to a third country," said Zahid Hamidi.

He added that by issuing work permits, it would "prevent exploitation of Rohingya as forced labour and illegal workers in the country."

While 24 dead is the official number, there may be reports of further deaths. Malaysian law allows foreigners suspected of entering the country illegally to be detained for "such period as may be necessary," the Guardian reported.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, are described as "the world's most persecuted people."

Dozens of Rohingya refugees have died in Malaysian jails | World