Home Civil Society Voices Coronavirus: Undocumented migrants are not ‘acceptable casualties’

Coronavirus: Undocumented migrants are not ‘acceptable casualties’

Photograph: The roads travelled for work - Women Migrant Workers in Singapore and Malaysia by UN Women Gallery/Flickr

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Lawyers for Liberty view with grave concern Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s remark yesterday stating the government would not “bow down” to demands to protect migrants’ rights in order to protect Malaysians from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is startling that the government believes that the mass incarceration of undocumented migrants during the movement control order would protect Malaysians from the pandemic.

Any increase in cases will be a burden to our own healthcare system, and the spread of Covid-19, even among migrants in detention centres, may increase the risk of infection to immigration officers, staff and frontline workers who have to deal with those infected.

Further mass detention of migrants would only exacerbate this problem as crowded detention centres would be the perfect setting for a major spike of Covid-19 cases.

Infection amongst migrants in detention centres must not be conceived as an ‘acceptable casualty’ in our fight against the pandemic.

Healthcare is a basic right that should be top priority during these trying times. Treatment could be given without detaining migrants en masse, which would put otherwise healthy migrants at risk of infection. It is the humane thing to do.

The government must acknowledge that many of these undocumented migrants are victims of those exploiting ineffective government policies. They were brought in by domestic private agents to be recruited as migrant workers and only turned ‘illegal’ due to a weakness in the system.

Yet, it is the migrants who are vilified instead of the agents or employers who exploited them. They are the root cause of the problem, and the government must tackle that head on instead of relying on cheap jingoistic rhetoric.

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We thus urge the government to stop its unwarranted attack on the migrant community. We also strongly urge that undocumented migrants be granted temporary amnesty and that the government ensures that they have necessary access to treatment and healthcare during the pandemic.

Zaid Malek is the coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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