Two Filipino toddlers who were seized during a law-enforcement raid and held under custody at a Malaysian immigration detention center for nearly three weeks have arrived with their mothers in Manila, a Philippine migrant-rights group said.
The toddlers, younger than 2, were taken into custody following an immigration raid on June 13 at an apartment complex in Kajang, about 20 km (12.5 miles) southwest of Kuala Lumpur.
“Mixed emotions filled the group of deportees from Malaysia during the night of their arrival on 3 July 2019 at NAIA Terminal 1 around 9:40 p.m.,” the rights group Migrante said in a statement posted on its website, referring to Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The children’s mothers picked up the toddlers from the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Center in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, and then traveled with them on a Malaysia Airlines flight to Manila in the evening.
Migrante published photos of the toddlers with their mothers and Filipino friends during their arrival in Manila.
The toddlers were trapped in the dragnet when authorities launched the raid after receiving complaints from neighbors about a suspiciously high number of African nationals in the building, an immigration source told BenarNews
Officers arrested 80 African nationals during the raid, the source said, but the toddlers were also found in one of the apartments while under the care of their nannies, who did not have proper immigration documents.
The Filipina mothers of the toddlers were not at home during the raid and the nannies told immigration agents they had no idea where the toddlers’ parents were working.
“We cannot just leave the toddlers there under someone else’s care when his or her legal guardian was not around,” an immigration official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity. “So when they [the nannies] were taken into custody, we placed them [the toddlers] with their nannies [at the detention center] until we were able to reach out to the mothers.”
According to Glorene Das, executive director of the Malaysian rights group Tenaganita, the immigration department refused to release the babies despite intervention from the Philippine Embassy and Hannah Yeoh, deputy minister of Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development.
The two toddlers, whose fathers were African nationals, had no birth certificates, but merely a form indicating the Malaysian hospital where they were born, immigration officials told BenarNews.
Birth within the territory of Malaysia does not automatically confer the right to citizenship.
Authorities told BenarNews that 363 children younger than 12, including Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Myanmar nationals, were being detained at immigration centers across Malaysia. Some of the children were under the care of their guardians while others were detained with their parents who were living in the country illegally.
The presence of the two Filipino toddlers at the detention center came to light after Das issued a statement on Tuesday calling for their release.
“The babies have been deprived of the care of their mothers and held in less than hospitable conditions,” Das said, adding that the detention of the toddlers violated child rights.
The mothers had valid tourist visas and told immigration officials that they were travelling and visiting places during the raid, but authorities told BenarNews they suspected that the duo were working illegally in the country.
“The mothers were not deported, but they had to accompany their children back to Manila,” the immigration source said.