As the world celebrated International Women's Rights Day yesterday, Amnesty International is concerned about the rights of undocumented women migrant workers and refugee women in Malaysia during the current mass deportations.
In any case of mass expulsions, there is a risk that it will be tainted with discrimination and arbitrariness and will therefore be inherently unlawful.
The collective nature of the expulsions makes it virtually impossible for the state to provide the necessary procedural guarantees and to ascertain whether among those expelled are some who are legally entitled to be in the country
In 2002, reports indicated that Malaysian nationals may have been deported along with undocumented migrants. A 13-year-old girl who was deported in August 2002, was originally thought to be from the Philippines.
Further investigation showed she was a Malaysian citizen. She was reportedly raped in an immigration detention centre in Sabah state by three police officers.
Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the conditions of undocumented women migrant workers and women refugees held in immigration detention centres, especially at times when mass arrests and deportations lead to severe overcrowding.
Conditions in some immigration detention centres may be, at times, so poor as to amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
As a state party to the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), the Malaysian government has the duty to ensure that women, including those in detention, get appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting of free services where necessary as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.
Detention conditions have the indirect effect of forcing women asylum seekers and refugees to return to a situation where they risk facing serious human rights abuses. This would constitute a 'constructive' refoulement and is similarly prohibited by customary international law.
The Malaysian government must take steps to ensure any woman detained be granted appropriate protection as required by Cedaw.
Josef Roy Benedict is acting director of Amnesty International Malaysia.