The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Disappointed by Hope: Migrants and Refugees in Search of A Better Country
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A Child Among Men:

Children in Immigration Detention Centres

“Mother!” Bao yells as the man in green uniform pulls her away. She stretches out her hand toward him and screams. The man grabs her by the waist and lifts her off the ground. Her hair falls over her eyes and all Bao can see is her mouth, screaming his name. Another man easily picks up Qui, his little sister, as she cries uncontrollably, watching the scene unfold. The man yanks her from the ground and shakes Qui roughly. “Enough!”

Before Bao can think he is on his feet, running toward the men who swooped into their small village to round up people without identification papers. Bao grabs Qui’s hand and tries to pull her away from the men. But just as quickly another uniformed man is upon him, strikes the boy across the face with his baton. Qui screams loudly, the guards push her into a truck. The look of horror on his mother’s ashen face the last thing Bao sees before everything fades to black.

* * *

Bao wakes with a start, calls out his mother’s name. It’s dark, and he’s lying on a cement floor. He has no shirt, no pants, wears only the underwear he had on when the officers raided the kampong. All around him lie men, sleeping on their sides, packed together like sardines in a tin can. Sounds of the jungle fill the night air, insects hum. Bao’s head throbs in pain. He moves to touch his forehead.

“No, don’t touch.” An old man’s voice. “Leave alone. Or else it won’t heal.” Bao runs his hand along his cheek and neck where warm, sticky blood has hardened to his skin. “How old are you?” the old man asks.

“14,” Bao says through swollen lips. “My mother. My sister!”

The old man hands Bao a cup that holds very little water. “Sip, but only a little. They give water twice a day. You need more than that to heal your head. They keep the women in separate blocks.”

Bao takes the cup, puts it to his lip. He forces himself to only sip, would swallow a whole river if he had the chance.

“Now lay down and rest,” the old man says. “You will need all your strength to last even one day in this place.”


Facts: The total number of detainees in Malaysia’s 13 Immigration Detention Centres from 2004 – 2008 was 235,397 persons (SUARAM Press Statement, August 2009, “Arbitrary Detention of Migrant and Refugee Children”). Of those detained 3,675 were children. 2,652 of the detainees were boys, and 1,023 of the detainees were girls. Detainees often suffer from over-crowding, poor quality of food, poor nutrition, insufficient clothing, and inadequate access to health services.

Prayer: Father, Malaysia has ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). Please cause the government to uphold its obligation to protect
all children, including migrant, asylum-seeking, and refugee children. Please help and comfort those children presently in Immigration Detention
Centres or separated from parents who are detained in these facilities.

Action: (In Malaysia) Visit a refugee community and get to know the children there. Ask them about their experiences living in Malaysia. Ask if there are any children in
detention who you can visit. When you visit, buy them food, toiletries, and other basic necessities at the supply stores run by guards at the IDCs. Ask the guards if you can bring clothes and toys for them next time you visit. Contact UNHCR Malaysia – and; (Outside Malaysia) Connect with the work of YWAM Penang to help support them in their efforts to help migrants and refugees in distress


All stories are adapted from actual accounts, case studies and interviews with migrants and refugees. They have been
fictionalized to protect their confidentiality. For the same reason the photographs are representations.

Photograph by Jonathan Kwok.  Story by Andrew Kooman.
© 2010 YWAM Penang and Raise Their Voice.  All Rights Reserved