Al Jazeera Documentary on Treatment of Migrants During MCO Prompts Backlash

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A foreign news report alleging that Malaysia discriminated against illegal immigrants while enforcing the movement control order (MCO) as part of efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic is flawed, said Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

He said the news report not only portrayed an inaccurate account of how the government had been managing the outbreak, it also painted a very bad image of the country.

“The beginning and the end of this particular news report were done badly, and in addition had caused much damage to Malaysia’s image. The report kicked off by mentioning ‘racism’ and ended the same way. Malaysian is a multiracial and multireligious country and widely known as a peaceful nation.

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“It is not as how portrayed by Al Jazeera at all, I am not too keen with the fact that they started and ended the report with that (racism) as though the situation is so bad over here…this is inaccurate,” he told a media conference today.

Saifuddin said the news report also did not seem to point out the difference between documented migrants and those who were not.

“We treat foreign workers well and (our) ties with countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal and Vietnam are very good in terms of migrant worker management.

“Illegal immigrants, however, is a different issue altogether but the report seemed to lump both groups (documented and undocumented) together, and this is flawed,” he said.

He said in Malaysia, anyone who gets infected by the virus, including documented foreign workers and illegals, will be treated at government hospitals on taxpayers’ money.

“This fact, however, was left out of their report. We even sent ambulances to the homes (of migrants), but the report only seemed to amplify things such as barbed wires mounted for enhanced movement control order (EMCO) cases, but it is a known fact that even Malaysians were subjected to this,” he said.

Saifuddin said local and foreign media must present their Covid-19 related reports as well as other issues fairly.

He said what should have been the reported was the fact that despite not being a signatory of the United Nations refugee convention, Malaysia is host to more than 150,000 refugees, including the Rohingya community.

“I regret that this (inaccurate news report) happened and I was made to understand that the Information Department is preparing a detailed report… The Ministry of Home Affairs will also be calling in the news agency’s representatives,” he said.

Saifuddin also stressed on the need for journalists and media practitioners to always subscribe to ethical and fair reporting based on facts.

“This is really important, yes, this is not the right way to report, (such as) the one documented by Al Jazeera, when we report, we do it fairly with facts. We must always be steadfast in reporting based on facts,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Al Jazeera should apologise to the people of Malaysia for carrying an inaccurate documentary on the way Malaysia managed undocumented migrant workers in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said it was unethical of the journalist concerned to produce the documentary, which he described as misleading and baseless.

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“As an international media organisation, Al Jazeera should stop its action (of screening the documentary) and apologise to the people of Malaysia,” he told a news conference on the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) today.

The 20-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, alleged that Malaysia discriminated against illegal immigrants when it took steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Ismail Sabri said Al Jazeera had also lied by claiming that children of illegal immigrants had been treated cruelly, including being taken to the Immigration Detention Depots (DTI) in handcuffs.

However, the reality is that the children were not handcuffed and were in fact separated from other detainees and placed together with their parents, he added.

Afif Abd Halim/TMI

“This is a fact. Al Jazeera did not wish to know the facts and maliciously accused us of being racist, which is also untrue,” he said.

Ismail Sabri stressed that the arrest of illegal immigrants was based on Malaysia’s Immigration Act, which provides for action against immigrants without valid documents, a move consistent with the laws of other countries too.

He challenged Al Jazeera to name any countries which give absolute freedom to illegal immigrants in their territories.

As far as I know there is none. I believe there is no country which gives freedom to foreigners with expired visas,” he said.

“It is not true that the lockdown applied to illegal immigrants only because in other areas under EMCO like at the Madrasah tahfiz in Hulu Langat, we also confined our own citizens, not only foreigners.

“In fact, we screened them, and the government had to bear the cost of the Covid-19 tests,” he said.

He said 68,829 immigrants with travel documents had been tested and 5,729 were found to be positive and treated in hospitals.

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A total of 4,924 illegal immigrants at four DTIs had also been screened for Covid-19 and 777 were found positive and treated at The Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang quarantine and treatment centre before being sent back to the detention depots, he added.

Ismail Sabri thanked Malaysians for supporting the measures taken by the government to combat the pandemic.

“Yesterday, there were hundreds of thousands of dislikes on the button (on YouTube), so much so that Al Jazeera stopped the comment section; 100 per cent did not agree (with the documentary),” he said.

The documentary, aired on July 3, has since prompted backlash from Malaysians on social media.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin dismissed the documentary when pressed on the matter earlier today, reiterating that the authorities were merely acting on the public’s “wish”, Malaysiakini reported.

“This government is siding with the people’s wish. They wish to see everyone in this country living according to our laws,” Hamzah was quoted as saying.

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“If they want to work here, they must have a permit and valid documents.”

Hamzah, however, had reportedly described the allegation as the work of foreign media who like “to twist stories.”

“So, although the foreign media claims that we are harsh and strict, I feel that is what the people want. The people need a government that acts against those who break the law,” he was quoted as saying.

“So, we don’t need to bother about foreign media that like to twist stories.”

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said all forms of action taken against undocumented migrants in the country is for national security and health reasons.

He said no country would allow undocumented migrants to move freely, especially in the face of global dangers posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this regard, Abdul Hamid said the police will continue to assist the Immigration Department enforce the Immigration Act.

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“During the ongoing recovery movement control order (RMCO), the police will continue to intensify efforts to monitor sea and land borders against the entry of undocumented migrants. At the same time, (we will) ensure (there is) no discrimination against those arrested,” he said.

Commenting on the Al Jazeera documentary, Abdul Hamid said the report was inaccurate and police investigations were ongoing.

It is learnt that the Immigrant Department has lodged a police report on the matter.