5 October 2010: RELA, the voluntary squad which is entrusted to detain illegal foreigners in Malaysia says it is only playing a minor role in managing immigration detention centers in the country.A RELA spokesman explained that Prison Department and Immigration Department, both under the Ministry of Internal Affairs are playing more important roles in managing Immigration detention facilities.``We (RELA) shared the responsibility with four other organizations under the banner of Ministry of Internal Affairs, RELA only plays a minor role.``Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working to assist refugees and foreign workers need not worry, we will do our best to secure the centers and at the same time make sure every detainee is safe,’’ the spokesperson told the Chinland Guardian. In November 2007, Malaysian government transferred the management of immigration detention centers from the Prisons Department to the Immigration Department. At that time, RELA personnel were deployed as the Immigration Department lacked personnel to man the detention depots.During the period that RELA assisted in managing the detention centers, there were many allegations of poor treatment of detainees by RELA personnel, including verbal, psychological and physical abuse. From Mid-2009 onwards, RELA personnel were withdrawn from the detention centers while Immigration Department completely took over the management of all detention centers,a decision welcomed by domestic rights organizations.In August this year, the government however made a policy u-turn when allowing RELA personnel back into detention centers. The decision was made after two breaks in a detention center in Sepang, not far from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).The decision again raised concerns among NGOs who worry that the 400,000 strong civil volunteers might abuse their powers,which extend beyond the powers traditionally mandated to the regular law enforcement such as the police, to include the authority to search and enter people's home without a warrant and arrest and detain any person found to be "undesirable."
By THOMAS CHONG