A news report on the alleged mistreatment and deaths of refugees held in immigration detention centres in Malaysia is "grossly misleading", said Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed.
"Inmates in detention centres in Europe and Australia suffer more misery. But we are doing continuous improvement (to detention centres in Malaysia)," he told Malaysiakini.
Nur Jazlan was responding to an article in The Guardian newspaper, which quoted former detainees recalling the alleged abuse endured in Malaysian detention centres.
The article also quoted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as stating that 24 refugees have died in detention since 2015.
On an unnamed former detainee claiming to have witnessed a Sri Lankan immigrant beaten to death by security personnel at a detention centre, Nur Jazlan demanded proof.
"If there are any detainees beaten to death, please ask the paper to come out with proof.
"There was an allegation that some Cambodians were killed in detention last year in Penang but this was later denied by the Cambodian embassy," he said.
He was referring to Cambodian news reports last August citing a repatriated maid as claiming that she had witnessed the torture of detainees by Malaysian immigration officers, leading to the deaths of two Cambodians and one Vietnamese woman.
However, a subsequent report by the Phnom Penh Post quoted the Cambodian Foreign Ministry as denying the maid's allegation.
Meanwhile, on allegations made in The Guardian that due to insufficient food and water, some detainees had to resort to drinking toilet water, Nur Jazlan said the matter would be probed.
"We are investigating such matters and allocating funds to solve the issue.
"But with the estimated large number of illegal immigrants in the country it is straining our resources," he added.
As for the spread of diseases, the deputy home minister said those detained "sometimes have chronic sickness and die at the centres after returning from the hospital".
Nur Jazlan also disputed whether those detained were actual refugees.
"How does UNHCR know they are refugees. We haven't recorded any refugee arrivals by boat or under distress in the last few years," he said.
He added that the police and immigration also had an unofficial agreement with UNHCR, where card carrying refugees are not placed in immigration depots.
In a parliamentary reply published this month, the Home Ministry said the largest number of deaths were recorded at the detention camps located in Langkap (40), Bukit Jalil (31) and Lenggeng (28).
Most of the deceased were Myanmarese (73), followed by Indonesians (23) and Bangladeshis (14).
The Home Ministry said the deaths were caused by a range of illnesses, including tuberculosis and HIV.- Mkini