Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) is shocked by the justification provided by the Inspector General of Police, Abdul Hamid Bador for the large-scale raid at an enhanced movement control order (MCO) location.
The raid was described as a measure to contain migrant workers who may be potentially infected with the Covid-19 virus from leaving the identified areas and risk the further spread of the virus.
The nature of large-scale raid and treatment of detainees during the raid itself was a far cry from the repeated instruction by the government for social distancing. Photo of long human ‘chain’ with minimal protection has been captured by various parties during the raid. As opposed to containing the spread of the virus, the government has knowingly risked a new outbreak for a bizarre purpose.
Furthermore, by conducting a raid, the government has knowingly set off a sense of dread and fear among migrant communities, especially those who do not have the appropriate pass to enter the country. This fear will drive them away from the authorities and make it even more so difficult to trace and identify potentially infected individuals.
As these individuals who are described as illegal migrant by the government have been detained, which detention centre will be utilised? What would be the terms of their detention? What is the action plan if they were prosecuted and found guilty of violating immigration laws? These questions are critical to ensure the fundamental rights of detainees are protected, and public health would not be put at unnecessary risk.
These actions are also inconsistent with the recommendations made by the United Nations in its guidance around the pandemic. Immigration detention centres are high-risk locations for the spread of communicable infections, a sudden increase of detainees from enhanced MCO would needlessly expose other detainees and immigration officers in detention centres.
While we acknowledge that ensuring migrants are in the country are complying with our immigration requirements is a legitimate aim of the government, Suaram would like to remind the government that enforcement of these provisions should not be at the expenses of public health.
Meanwhile, the United Nations office in Malaysia said the large-scale arrests of undocumented migrants yesterday in areas under enhanced MCO in Kuala Lumpur will frighten other foreigners into hiding and increase the risk of new Covid-19 infections.
“The fear of arrest and detention may push these vulnerable population groups further into hiding and prevent them from seeking treatment, with negative consequences for their own health and creating further risks to the spreading of Covid-19 to others,” the UN said in a statement.
It noted that Putrajaya at the start of the MCO in March had promised free screening and treatment for all foreigners, regardless of their immigration status.
The reassurance had given illegal visitors the confidence to step forward, but that has been undermined by yesterday’s raids, which could also undo all the country’s efforts to check the coronavirus outbreak, it said.
“Overcrowded conditions in immigration detention centres carry a high risk of increasing Covid-19 infection among both detainees and staff.
It is especially important to prioritise the release of all children and their caregivers from immigration detention.”
Sixty-two civil society organisations, many of them working with marginalised groups, including refugees, also slammed the arrests which they said could lead to more infections.
“Should mass arrests result in an increased rate of Covid-19 infections in detained migrants, this will lead to an increased risk of infections among Malaysians who work in detention centres and at other related jobs.
“This, in turn, increases the risks of infections of the Malaysian public as a whole,” they said in a joint statement issued through Refuge for the Refugees.
“The best way to combat Covid-19 holistically is for all individuals, including migrants, to come forward for testing, especially when exhibiting symptoms.
“Should the authorities resort to the mass arrests of migrants, this will invariably create a culture of fear that will ripple out amongst migrant communities, and completely scare them away from coming forward to be tested.
“Migrants will probably be even more inclined now to go into hiding, and to avoid detection at all costs.”
It will be even harder to track and trace migrants for tests when more sectors of the economy reopen on Monday, they said.
Putrajaya is now perceived to have again turned back on its word, after Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on March 22 that migrants need not be afraid to come forward for virus tests.
The groups also called for the urgent release of children who were swept up with the adult migrants, saying there were reports of four-year-olds being nabbed in yesterday’s raids.
A large number of undocumented migrants were arrested after authorities swooped on the Masjid India area and Menara City One in Kuala Lumpur. Both areas in lockdown because of Covid-19 infections there.
The views expressed here are strictly those of the groups.