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More than 100 detained migrants escaped from the Lenggeng detention centre in southwestern Malaysia yesterday evening, the majority believed to be of Burmese descent.
Of the 109 who fled, around 30 have been recaptured. Officials said they had set fire to the premises at around 9.45pm yesterday before escaping.
The Lenggeng camp in Negri Sembilan state, around 70 miles southwest of Kuala Lumpur, has a capacity of 1,000 but is often overcrowded. It is also notorious for poor conditions, which last year induced a mass hunger strike amongst detainees who complained of a lack of water and sanitation.
Such conditions are often blamed for the widespread incidences in the camp of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection caused when humans come inti contact with contaminated food and water.
According to AP, Malaysian home ministry official Mohamed Asri Yusof confirmed that 30 of the escapees have now been recaptured, but the whereabouts of the remaining 79 are as yet unknown.
There are thought to be in the region of half a million illegal migrants in Malaysia, many from Burma, who often take up the least desirable jobs and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation.
Detainees at the Ajil camp in northeastern Malaysia also reportedly tried to set facilities ablaze last year, whilst migrants in the Semenyieh camp were involved in mass hunger strike against the conditions there in 2009.
Malaysia is heavily reliant upon migrant workers who are routinely subject to exploitative labour practices, abuse and detention. This case will again focus attention on the plight of those seeking a better life in Malaysia.
Lawyer Charles Hector, who is acting on behalf of Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia, was recently threatened with large defamation suit for publicising their plight. The case is ongoing.