KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Activists and rights groups here fear that Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob endorsing the management of strata properties’ right to screen “foreign” residents for Covid-19 before being allowed entry will fan the flames of xenophobia.
The Senior Minister’s “support” could easily be used as ammunition to discriminate against the non-Malaysian community given its ambiguity, they added.
Adrian Pereira, director and founder of human and minority rights group, the North-South Initiative (NSI), told Malay Mail that such discrimination towards migrant workers and even refugees has long existed even before Ismail’s controversial statement.
His worry is that this would serve to exacerbate the current situation as many Malaysians already wrongly equate migrant workers as carriers of Covid-19.
Pereira even cited a comment made by the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres who called for an end to the “tsunami of hate and xenophobia” sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic to back his fear.
Some of these abuses include foreign tenants being forced by the property’s security guards to produce swab test results or risk being denied entry, he added.
Pereira even gave examples of refugee families who were forced to remain indoors by their building management and made to take Covid-19 tests, purely out of discrimination.
“More cases like these are going to come up because of Ismail Sabri’s very misinformed statement. I don’t know what he was thinking, I don’t know who is advising him, but it doesn’t look good for the country’s management,” he said.
“What is the role of the National Security Council (NSC) if your spokesperson is talking rubbish? So it’s a very risky thing to do and say, irresponsible also,” he added.
Concurring with Pereira is Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy’s chief executive officer, Azrul Mohd Khalid, who said such vague statements being made by the minister would only give condominiums and apartments unjust authority and encourage vigilantism.
“Foreign workers have been disproportionately and unfairly blamed for the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak. This will fuel xenophobia.
“Will we see groups of righteous and self-anointed citizens standing at the gates of condominiums or knocking on doors of homes, demanding to see test results and claiming the right to do so in the name of collective protection, safety, and security?” he questioned.
Azrul warned that should such measures take place, even Malaysians might not be spared from the extreme vetting method, adding how it could open the door to potential widespread abuse.
“In some residences, residents are already encouraged to inform on their neighbours,” he said.
Also weighing in is human rights activist K. Sudhagaran Stanley, who penned a statement outlining the illegality of condominium managements enforcing such requirements, and the adverse effects towards the non-Malaysian community.
Stanley said despite Ismail Sabri’s vague statement potentially being an inconvenience to both locals and non-Malaysians, non-Malaysians here being pushed against the wall in a country other than their own already puts them at a disadvantage.
“Malaysians generally know their rights and will be able to tell off the management. However, the migrants would be in fear due to a lack of support system and many not being well-versed with their rights and the law.
“The statement by Ismail Sabri is going to cause huge havoc in many condominium facilities, problems between owners, migrants and the management body,” he wrote.
“I urge any property owner who is being barred to enter their property, to make a police report and take the management to court. In any way, they have no right to bar you from entering your units, it’s your right to enter your property,” he added.
Pereira added that despite Ismail Sabri’s statement not singling out non-Malaysians, the usual knee-jerk reactions of Malaysians almost always end up with foreigners being discriminated against.
“Knowing Malaysia and from the current abuse cases we are receiving, we know that the backlash is going to be felt largely by the migrant and refugee population,” he opined.
Galen Centre’s Azrul also pointed out that endorsing such overzealous measures on those just looking to enter their homes would only fuel actions that are based on fear and stigma.
He said how it would only make individuals and families already being ostracised by society suffer further discrimination.
“Covid-19 stigma is already causing prejudice, widening inequalities, increasing vulnerabilities to violence, harassment, and ostracisation, and working against public health objectives intended to manage the epidemic.
“Lives are already being lost due to COVID-19 stigma,” emphasised Azrul.
He also questioned the potential impact of such misconceptions towards larger families having to bear compounded costs needed for testing their entire household.
“Will all family members be subjected to testing, and how frequent would that be? How much is that going to cost?” he said.
Meanwhile, Stanley said making such unfounded statements could see an unnecessary surge in individuals seeking to be tested, which could overburden the healthcare system and lead to other strains in public healthcare efforts.
“It is better to reserve the testing for close contacts and suspected cases to reduce the strain on the system and help related people get their test results faster.
For Pereira, Ismail making such ill-informed statements could trigger effects that go beyond society and also affect the country’s economy.
“When the country cannot prove that it’s managing Covid-19 well, investors are also going to say what’s wrong with these guys, you can’t manage the spike in cases, you call for an Emergency and then you are making misinformed ad-hoc statements,” he said.
All the activists were in agreement that Ismail should retract his statement to prevent further confusion and avoid abuses stemming from misinterpretations.
“He should retract the statement, get proper legal advice, and make it very clear the JMB has no business to force people to take Covid-19 tests.
“They especially have no right to harass migrants and refugees regarding health because it is not under their purview,” said Pereira, using the acronym for joint management body (JMB) which oversees the management of condominiums.
Azrul said the National Security Council (NSC) should step in and clear the air of what is permitted and what is not under the law.
“Condominium and apartment committees should instead focus their collective efforts on educating their residents, improving adherence to SOPS, and ensuring good hygiene practices.
“This will yield better results and a greater and sustainable impact. The evidence and science show that this works,” he said.
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