A coalition of NGOs and individuals today urged the prime minister to pursue a holistic approach in dealing with migrants over the Covid-19 issue and to stop arresting undocumented ones. They claimed that resorting to such actions would only complicate issues and make it more difficult to achieve herd immunity.
A group of more than 80 organisations, civil societies, associations as well as 71 individuals today sent Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin a petition urging him to stop the mass arrest of undocumented migrants.
“We, from the various organisations that have signed this petition, view the current approach of arresting and detaining undocumented migrants at this time as further complicating efforts to fight the pandemic among Malaysians,” the petition said, as read out by People’s Health Forum representative Lim Chee Han at a virtual press conference after the petition was submitted.
The government should instead focus on the goal of controlling the spread of Covid-19, Lim added.
The signatories of the petition include the People’s Health Forum, Citizens’ Health Initiative, PSM, All Women’s Action Society, Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim), Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysian Medical Association, Sisters in Islam, Suaram, Tenaganita, Umany and many others.
In reading out the petition, Lim said Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin’s recent statements have created the perception that the government is launching a plan to arrest and detain undocumented migrants on a large scale over a short period of time.
Lim said such operations to arrest undocumented migrants will only further intimidate all foreign workers, regardless of their documentation status.
This will drive them to hide and avoid any government representative.
“Therefore, this will defeat the government’s efforts to create herd immunity in Malaysia,” Lim said.
Lim also pointed out the Immigration Department does not have the capacity to arrest and repatriate the 2-3 million undocumented migrants in Malaysia.
He said, according to estimate by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, as of July 1, 2020, Immigration detention centres with a capacity for 12,530 detainees are overflowing, reporting as many as 15,163 detainees within their walls.
“Besides which, more than 95% of undocumented migrants are working and contributing to the national economy,” Lim said.
Yesterday, the authorities raided a construction site and detained 156 undocumented migrant workers, who were taken to Semenyih Immigration detention centre.
Immigration authorities said the detainees will be screened for Covid-19 before their respective embassies are notified, adding that the detainees will then be deported.
This resulted in an outcry by civil society groups and activists who said the timing for this was wrong, as the country was in the middle of battling the pandemic and such operations will only worsen the situation.
Lim 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.
“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 Covid-19.”