Malaysian police said overcrowding at an immigration detention centre in the northern state of Penang could have led to a riot which saw hundreds of Rohingya migrants escaping.
Kedah police chief Wan Hassan Wan Ahmad said police were investigating further to pinpoint the cause of the incident at the Sungai Bakap temporary detention centre, which straddles the border between Penang and Kedah states.
“The case is being investigated according to Sections 147 and 224 of the Penal Code,” he said on April 20.
The sections refer to obstruction of a lawful arrest and rioting. Both sections provide for up to two years’ imprisonment.
Some 528 Rohingya migrants escaped from the detention centre in the early hours of April 20. Six of them – two men, two women, one girl and one boy – were killed as they attempted to cross a highway.
The police had arrested 357 of the fugitives as at Wednesday late afternoon.
Wan Hassan said 23 Immigration Department officers were at the centre when the riot broke out.
“However, no injuries were reported and there was only minor damage to the main gate as well as the fencing,” he said.
“There were too many detainees in a relatively narrow area and it became uncontrollable, with the detainees taking the opportunity to escape.”
Wan Hassan said the police has launched an operation with their counterparts in Penang to track down detainees who were still at large.
“We have set up four roadblocks in the Bandar Baharu area, four in south Seberang Prai and five in the Kulim area. We also have police patrols on the ground,” he said.
Many of the Rohingya detainees were transferred to the camp just less than a year ago, from an immigration camp on the island of Langkawi.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin said the refugees were arrested for entering Malaysia illegally in 2020.
Meanwhile, security at immigration detention centres across the country has been beefed up following the incident.
Immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said the commandants at detention centres had put their premises under high alert.
He added that they had also been in communication with nearby police stations so that request for assistance could be made should there be an incident.
“We are tightening security at other detention centres in case the inmates get inspired by the incident and want to make a similar attempt,” Datuk Seri Khairul said.
THE STAR (MALAYSIA)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK