Aliran is deeply dismayed by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s statement that all undocumented migrants found in areas under an enhanced movement control order would be handed over to the Immigration Department.
He said that they may be sent to 11 special prisons gazetted by the Ministry of Home Affairs if existing detention centres could not accommodate them.
Ismail Sabri’s announcement directly contradicts his guarantee in March 2020 to some of the tabligh participants who might have been undocumented migrants who feared arrest if they came forward for Covid-19 screening.
Back then, he said if there were migrants who did not have valid travel documents, what was important was for them to come forward without any fear. “We won’t focus on their documents but rather on whether they are positive with Covid-19 … The most extreme case that could happen is only a 14-day quarantine (for Covid-19). That is all (that can happen).”
A month later, he has changed his tune. But why the U-turn? Is it to ride on the xenophobia being fanned by some Malaysians who are targeting refugees and migrants, so that it deflects attention away from all the shortcomings of the Perikatan Nasional government?
Politicians coming up with contradictory statements is nothing new in Malaysia. But in this case it could backfire. All the efforts of the Ministry of Health in case identification, contact tracing, isolation of cases and contacts to halt the transmission of the coronavirus could some to waste.
Undocumented migrants – and not just in enhanced movement control areas – who fear arrest and detention might just flee their current premises and go underground. If some of them are infected by Covid-19, rest assured the transmission will continue elsewhere, unchecked and with serious consequences for both local and migrant populations.
If this happens and the pandemic spikes again, it would worsen the xenophobia and hatred towards migrants and refugees, especially if the cluster is from migrants who might have gone underground.
Aliran reiterates the People’s Health Forum’s call for a year’s free treatment for all migrant workers at government clinics and hospitals and for a year-long moratorium on immigration offences. They should be given an assurance that they will not be arrested and charged with not having proper documents.
Look across the border to Singapore. We do not want what is happening in Singapore to happen here with the migrant worker population.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the government needs to be smart. The focus should be on the health of the nation and not on the immigration status of migrants in the country.
1 May 2020