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We must not abandon migrants during pandemic, as we can’t live a day without them in normal times

The roads travelled for work: Women migrant workers in Singapore and Malaysia - UN WOMEN GALLERY/FLICKR

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Source: themalaymailonline.com

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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18 Apr 2020 8.07am

The xenophobic media always paints a dark picture of migrant workers. False allegations of rape & violence are always levelled against them because they know, helpless migrants can’t retort back. In local housing areas they’re harassed, bullied & despised by locals, but nobody talks about that!

Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
15 Apr 2020 12.36pm

Have Malaysians and many in other developed countries may have become OKUs or ‘CHALLENGED’
as neither they or companies factories plantations industries contractors can live or function without migrants. Just like our food fruits daily essentials imports.
USA has been using it’s power on other countries to influence their policies relating to economic and other aspects

Khoo Soo Hay
Khoo Soo Hay
15 Apr 2020 8.41am

We need the migrant workers. We need to look after their health also. They are human beings and our brothers and sisters on this earth.

18 Apr 2020 8.05am
Reply to  Khoo Soo Hay

Exactly! They are doing dirty, difficult & dangerous work, which the locals refuse to do. We need to be thankful to them & respect them as equal citizens.

15 Apr 2020 5.40am

They are also successful businessman, opening up many shops in town.They are important to us but they should be regulated and respected. The policy on migrant workers are not clear. They can be a disturbing factor in local housing areas. Recent report on allegations of rape on migrant workers in the social media will affect country’s image.Why are there so many migrants without valid documents? If they are not monitored, one day they can contribute to more social problems.

18 Apr 2020 8.04am
Reply to  Hari

The reason why so many migrants end up without documents is because their employers illegally take away their passports, so the migrant workers practically become their slaves. The employers exploit them fully with overwork & no pay. They’re subjected to all kinds of violence. If the bonded migrant worker escapes from their tyrant masters, they end up having no documents & have to work discretely as undocumented. This is a vicious circle which needs to be broken by us.

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