Malaysia to deport thousands of undocumented Indonesian migrants

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Indonesia is preparing to receive thousands of deportees from Malaysia, a government official said today, amid a crackdown there on undocumented workers and as the country suffers its most severe coronavirus outbreak so far.

Malaysia will send back about 7,200 people to Indonesia, which wants the most vulnerable people, including women and children held in detention centres, to be returned first, said Femmy Eka Kartika Putri of Indonesia’s coordinating ministry for human development.

Millions of undocumented workers from Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal and Bangladesh work in Malaysia, often in the plantation, construction and manufacturing sectors.

But Malaysia has toughened its stance during the pandemic, arresting and deporting thousands of undocumented migrants. Coronavirus cases and deaths hit record levels last month in Malaysia, which has the most cases per capita in Southeast Asia. Malaysia’s foreign ministry directed queries on the move to the Immigration Department, which declined to comment, but the plan comes amid a nationwide lockdown, in place until June 14.

Wahyu Susilo, founder of the Migrant Care, a non-governmental group, said authorities were scrambling to accommodate the planned influx, with no system in place to ensure adequate care, such as social assistance.

“There are no specific mitigation efforts post-deportation,” he said.

Meanwhile, despite intense criticism, Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin says his ministry will continue cracking down on migrants during the ongoing total lockdown.

He dismissed the need for a new amnesty plan, saying those arrested for not having proper documentation would be allowed to participate in the ongoing legalisation programme.

Hamzah also reportedly “warned” the United Nations refugee agency – UNHCR – against issuing its status verification cards to too many refugees, citing public sentiment and “social ills” as apparent factors.

The Star today published an interview with Hamzah in which he said the migrant raids would continue.

He dismissed claims that it was unfair to detain migrants who had become undocumented after being cheated by labour scam masterminds or employers.

“If they are being victimised by Malaysians (as alleged), we need to correct the situation. How can we correct it if we cannot find these people?

“Let me just do my work, we detain them, separate them one by one and correct the situation,” he was quoted as saying.

The minister had come under fire for once again cracking down on migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A raid earlier this week saw immigration officers spraying arrested migrants with Dettol disinfectant, sparking public outrage over the inhumane and unscientific practice.

A group of bipartisan MPs campaigning for detention reform warned the raids would spark infection clusters in prisons and be “counterproductive” to government efforts to combat the current pandemic.

Opposition elected representatives were concerned that the raids would deter migrants from coming forward for vaccinations, thus jeopardising the nation’s herd immunity goal.

The arrests also risk compromising an earlier plan by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for the government to work with NGOs to coax refugees and migrants – documented or otherwise – to get vaccinated.

Khairy had even assured those who came forward to be inoculated would not be arrested.