Human rights groups urge govt to stop clampdown on migrants, fight vaccine hesitancy with clear plan, information

·4-min read
Foreign workers hold up their documentation during a raid on a construction site by the Immigration Department in Cyberjaya June 6, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Foreign workers hold up their documentation during a raid on a construction site by the Immigration Department in Cyberjaya June 6, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — Non-governmental organisations that work closely with migrant communities in the country have questioned Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin’s decision to crack down on illegal foreigners during the latest movement control order (MCO) based on the reason that they would otherwise refuse vaccination.

Yayasan Chow Kit founder Hartini Zainudin said that migrants were rightfully afraid of criminalisation and punishment, but not only that, they are also afraid of vaccine side effects and the “explosion” of Covid-19 cases in places of detention.

“Doesn't it go against the principle of medical ethics to forcibly vaccinate folks?” she asked when contacted.

“People have a right to information, they have a right to know what's being injected into their bodies. Vaccine hesitancy is also real — among Malaysians, among migrants, in people across the globe.

“You combat that with clear information that is grounded in science and made more easily understood and more widely accessible,” she added.

Hartini also lambasted Hamzah for claiming that government amnesty and recalibration programmes had proven futile, asking him to review the programmes, which is run by his own ministry, and reveal to the public why they were unsuccessful.

“On the contrary, it hasn’t failed. It's working perfectly as designed. It was designed to use fancy words and confusing processes while pretending to provide an amnesty and documentation to people made undocumented by the system.

“And it has done just that — created pretense and failed to protect people. If a system is designed to generate rubbish, and rubbish has been generated, then that system has worked as intended,” said Hartini.

Beyond Borders president Mahi Ramakrishnan, agreed that the actions taken by the government had caused deep mistrust among undocumented migrants.

She questioned Hamzah’s plan for those arrested during the nationwide crackdown.

As Covid-19 cases increased at an alarming lever early last year, the government had promised amnesty to undocumented migrants who came to hospitals to do Covid-19 screening, however, in following months the government ran some of the biggest clampdowns on undocumented migrants the nation had ever seen.

“We have always treated migrant workers like subhumans. They are repeatedly victimised but there is no political will to go after unscrupulous labour agents and middlemen,” said Mahi.

It has been often reported that most migrants enter the country through legal means, but then become “undocumented” through exploitative employers and employment agents who do not renew the worker’s visas or even withhold their passports.

In some cases, migrant workers — many of whom are underprivileged and undereducated — are hoodwinked into thinking they are finding legal work in Malaysia, or some even are fleeing abusive work conditions.

Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said the undesired situation causing millions of lives to be at stake was the outcome of the Home Ministry and Immigration Act “over ruling” all other relevant ministries and legislation along with a lack of consultation with organisations on the ground.

“While he questions people right in front of him of their identification for vaccination registration, he should also ask questions to his Immigration Department why are there millions of undocumented migrants and workers in the country?

“If the department functions with transparency, integrity and basic principles, would we have a system which is so embedded with corruption, which is well documented, in Malaysia?” she stressed.

She also asked Hamzah to publicly reveal the data behind his assertion that migrants would not come forward for vaccination if they were not rounded up by authorities.

The plight of stateless Malaysians

On the matter of stateless Malaysians, Hamzah promised that his ministry would work with other relevant ministries and agencies to provide documentation and then vaccination, to all stateless Malaysian-born children who have been adopted.

It is unclear if this offer will be extended to stateless Malaysians in other categories, such as adults, those who have been left stateless for generations, or children born out of wedlock but still living with a birth parent.

“How long have we had stateless persons in this country? We started responding to the pandemic in March last year and the government is still working on issues related to statelessness? At what stage is this working arrangement at?” asked Mahi.

“By now, the government should have a plan to vaccinate stateless persons. The fact that it hasn’t only shows ineptitude and inefficiency,” she added.

In February, National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme Coordinating Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, promised that the government will not detain undocumented migrants who come forward to receive their Covid-19 vaccines.

Khairy, who is also minister of science and technology, had also hinted at the use of single dose vaccines to immunise undocumented migrants — such as those developed by Johnson & Johnson — although such vaccines are yet to be approved for use in Malaysia by the National Pharmaceutical Regulation Agency.

There also seems to be some disconnect between the Khairy and the home minister, with Hamzah repeatedly opting to crack down on migrant communities rather than providing them free passage to vaccines or relevant healthcare.


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