Coalition of NGOs and individuals urges PM to pursue holistic approach in dealing with migrants over Covid-19

·3-min read
Immigration Department personnel round up foreign workers during a raid on a construction site in Cyberjaya June 6, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Immigration Department personnel round up foreign workers during a raid on a construction site in Cyberjaya June 6, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, June 8 — A coalition of civil rights organisations and prominent individuals has petitioned Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to focus more on controlling the spread of Covid-19 instead of simply arresting undocumented migrants.

They said that they hope he will bring the issue to the National Security Council (NSC) meeting so that a more appropriate and integrated approach can be formulated for handling undocumented migrants amid the pandemic

“At this point of time, we should focus on the goal of controlling the spread of Covid-19 in our country. Other goals are secondary and should be postponed if they conflict with the primary goal that is to control and overcome the spread of the pandemic,” said the coalition in a statement.

Pointing to Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin’s remarks on May 29 and June 3, the coalition said this has created the perception among many that the government has decided to launch a mass-scale plan to arrest and detain undocumented migrants over a short period of time.

On May 29, Hamzah said 800 roadblocks would be mounted nationwide once the ongoing full-scale lockdown begins on June 1, which included the participation of the Immigration Department, among other government agencies.

Tuesday saw him state that the government is rounding up migrants to vaccinate them for Covid-19 as they would refuse to do so otherwise.

However, Hamzah added that the detained migrants will not receive the vaccination if they are undocumented, as their identity cannot be ascertained otherwise.

The coalition described the current approach of arresting and detaining undocumented migrants as one that further complicates the efforts to fight the pandemic among Malaysians.

“Such operations will intimidate foreign workers, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented. In fact, such actions would cause them to avoid any government representative and go to hide.

“Therefore this will defeat the government’s efforts to create herd immunity in Malaysia. Herd immunity requires vaccination for 80 per cent of the Malaysian population, including the migrant community,” it said.

Failure to reach the vaccination level of 80 per cent of the population will delay the country’s economic recovery and extend the suffering of the people, the coalition added in its statement.

“There is a strong possibility that the arrest and detention of undocumented migrants at this time will result in new clusters of Covid-19 in immigration detention centres.

“This will increase the spread of Covid-19 among undocumented migrants and will also infect immigration officers, police officers and court staff (who are involved in remand control), as well as their family members. This possibility can and should be avoided,” said the coalition.

It added that the Immigration Department lacks the capacity to arrest and repatriate the estimated two to three million undocumented migrants in the country.

“According to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) as of July 1, 2020, Immigration detention centres can only accommodate 12,530 detainees, which have exceeded their capacity by being filled with as many as 15,163 detainees.

“Besides that, more than 95 per cent of undocumented migrants are working and contributing to the national economy. In fact, our country’s economic activities also require their services,” the coalition said.

It reminded Hamzah that every action plan taken must be based on clear, objective and reasonable scientific analysis, and that the current approach of arresting and detaining undocumented migrants will be detrimental to the government’s efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.

The statement’s 71 signatories included Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, the Centre for Independent Journalism, the Malaysian Medical Association, former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, Suhakam commissioner for child affairs Prof Datuk Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, and former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, among others.

Related Articles Health minister: Children could receive Covid-19 jabs during fifth phase of Malaysia’s immunisation programme PM Muhyiddin leaves Istana Negara after audience with King As lockdown continues, Malaysia’s informal workers look to soup kitchens and NGOs for survival

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting