We should all never forget that our life and economies are mainly reliant on migrant workers, Khoo Ying Hooi writes.
The UN General Assembly recently unanimously adopted a calling for increased global solidarity and international cooperation against the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the first such document on the global pandemic to be adopted by the UN.
The resolution, titled “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19)”, is sponsored by 188 countries calling for intensified international cooperation to defeat the pandemic as it poses a threat to the livelihood of the people. The resolution also emphasised the need to respect human rights and oppose any form of discrimination in the response to the pandemic.
The UN resolution is timely, as across the world, we have seen how countries have moved to shut borders and impose travel lockdowns. On a more controversial move, some nations restrict foreigners from accessing local public healthcare infrastructure or call on them to return home. Many countries continue to adopt their own set of public health policies that might not be inclusive.
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The pandemic has brought difficult situations for everyone. For some, however, the impacts are more severe than the others.
In this article, I refer to the migrant workers in Malaysia in response to the recent statement by the senior minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, on migrant workers in the Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion buildings in Jalan Masjid India in Kuala Lumpur, which have been placed under total lockdown under an enhanced movement control order. This came after 15 Covid-19 positive cases were detected in the premises. As reported, both premises involve some 6,000 residents.
Foreign embassies have been told to provide meals for the residents in the Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion who are not Malaysian citizens. “About 97% of those living there are foreigners, and therefore, the respective embassies should be responsible for their welfare, which includes obtaining essential items,” Sabri said. He added, “We give an alternative to buy food through the counter of the operation centre but they’ll need to pay for it themselves.”
The senior minister’s statement shows how we push away the responsibility of migrant workers’ welfare on the shoulders of their respective embassies. That itself has gone against the spirit of the UN resolution calling for shared responsibility and global solidarity that we are also part of.
The fear of vulnerable migrant workers is fully justified and a global pandemic in the context of unequal welfare treatment is devastating. They are not only losing their income or face mass layoffs, they also fear being arrested especially if they are undocumented. Moreover, it is likely that they might also be under-equipped with information on the severity of the pandemic.
Although the government said that they could go to government facilities to test for Covid-19 without fear, Malaysia has for years treated these workers as separate from the local people. How can we expect the workers to have full trust in us?
In Malaysia, migrant workers take on various important roles in sectors such as construction, cleaning, manufacturing and others. They help to build our roads and homes yet they are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, more so when they are undocumented.
This is an inhumane approach during the global pandemic, and it should prompt all of us to rethink our attitude towards migrant workers. Take a moment and think, can we live one day without the migrant workers building our homes, roads, schools and even hospitals? What happen to our restaurants and other eateries if we lose these workers?
As public health becomes more globally connected, we should see healthcare and welfare not in terms of borders, but as an interconnected and interdependent chain. We should all never forget that our life and economies are mainly reliant on migrant workers. When there is no salary, there is no money and there will be no food; so be humane to them.