Congo NGO claims racial profiling in activist’s KLIA detention

Boo Su-Lyn
The Fund for Congolese Women (FFC) said its programme manager Simon Idi Bilondjwa was detained despite following immigration guidelines and then deported. — Picture via Fund for Congolese Women (FFC)

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 21 — A non-profit from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) claimed that Malaysian authorities’ decision to detain its staff for 30 hours at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) was racially motivated.

The Fund for Congolese Women (FFC) — which supports Congolese women and girls’ grassroots organisations, according to its website — said its programme manager Simon Idi Bilondjwa was detained despite following immigration guidelines and then deported.

“It’s clear from reading Simon’s account that the Malaysian officials’ decision to confine these travellers was racially motivated and to prevent people from countries that are in conflict or considered less developed from entering the country, even when they came legally.

“Simon and the other detainees he encountered systematically had their human rights violated,” FFC said in its petition titled “Raise your voice to stop human rights violations at Kuala Lumpur International Airport”.

The African non-governmental organisation (NGO) said Idi Bilondjwa was held with other travellers from India, Guinea, Gambia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia in “freezing cold” cells without bedding or access to medicine.

According to Idi Bilondjwa’s account in FFC’s petition, water, biscuits and soft drinks cost almost US$2 (RM8.20) in his detention cell, with immigration officers giving detainees water only once a day to those who paid.

The cell only had two rows of chairs for about 50 people to sit on and sleep, as Idi Bilondjwa observed “many” who slept on the pavement.

He also said he was given a “detention bill” of US$130 (RM533.20) that he refused to pay.

Idi Bilondjwa said he had arrived at KLIA on July 23 at 5pm to attend a conference organised by Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds, an organisation of women’s funds based in Canada.

Upon arrival, he said he was asked to go to quarantine to take a medical test. Idi Bilondjwa said an immigration officer yelled at him when he told her he had US$100 cash, who allegedly refused to listen to his explanation that his stay in Malaysia was supported and told him to get more money. Another officer allegedly refused to accept his Visa credit card as evidence of his finances.

He said he was later taken to a detention room that contained Indians, Guineans, Gambians, Nigerians, Sudanese, Somalis, and two Tanzanians from China. One detainee, he said, spent 15 days in the cell, while others spent four or five days in custody.

Two Sudanese and Syrian refugees had been detained for more than a week, Idi Bilondjwa claimed.

The DRC activist alleged migration agents beating up an Ugandan girl in the cell.

Idi Bilondjwa also claimed that on three occasions, guards refused to open the door when he wanted to retrieve medicine from his confiscated bag to give a Somali detainee who complained of strong headaches.

“I was very worried that someone was at the point of losing his life,” said Idi Bilondjwa.

“A woman committed to the care allows me to go to get the drugs. He had no more water so I had to pay for a bottle for the young Somali take these drugs.”

Idi Bilondjwa said he did not expect to suffer such an ordeal with Malaysian immigration.

“I was lucky enough to go out after 30 hours of hell.”

Idi Bilondjwa’s profile on FFC’s website describes him as a programme manager whose role is to support women’s groups to improve the rights of Congolese women and girls. He also initiated projects on care for sexual assault victims and monitored human rights violations in the territories of Uvira and Fizi in the DRC, according to the website.

International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW), the local host that helped Prospera with logistics here in Kuala Lumpur for the conference Idi was supposed to attend, said Idi’s visa had been arranged and approved in advance.

IWRAW said immigration officers had told Idi he needed US$2,000 in cash to enter Malaysian territory, but noted there was no such requirement stated on the immigration website.

“We are concerned by continuing reports of human rights abuses by Malaysian immigration officers,” said IWRAW yesterday.

The women’s organisation questioned what criteria must be fulfilled to enter Malaysia if valid documentation did not suffice, the financial threshold required to enter the country, and what safeguards were in place if detainees could not afford to buy food.

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