Malaysian Bar urges Putrajaya to stop rounding up undocumented migrants

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran said placing undocumented migrants in detention centres will only heighten the spread of Covid-19 as practising social distancing is difficult in small crowded areas. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran said placing undocumented migrants in detention centres will only heighten the spread of Covid-19 as practising social distancing is difficult in small crowded areas. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — The Malaysian Bar hopes the government will provide care and Covid-19 testing for all undocumented migrant workers after multiple arrests were made during the movement control order (MCO).

Its president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran said placing them in detention centres will only heighten the spread of Covid-19 as practising social distancing is difficult in small crowded areas.

“The Malaysian Bar calls on the government to consider halting the current enforcement action and to focus instead on ensuring that all persons alike co-operate to reduce and stop the transmission of Covid-19.

“The government should instead be assuring everyone, as they have in the past, that all persons — including migrants — have access to Covid-19 testing and the necessary medical assistance and treatment they require, without fear of being reprimanded for their status. This alone should be our nation’s utmost priority during these trying times,” Salim said in a statement.

Over the past three days, large-scale joint operations have been carried out to weed out undocumented migrants as part of the government’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador on Saturday said the operations which involve the Royal Malaysia Police, the Immigration Department, the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Health are to ensure no undocumented migrants sneak out from identified areas and spread the disease somewhere else.

Abdul Hamid pointed out that it would be difficult for the authorities to carry out contact tracing should an infected undocumented migrant move to a different location and later start a new cluster.

Elaborating further, he said those detained would be placed in one location for easy monitoring until the MCO has been lifted.

The Bar, however, feels that the opposite may happen, undocumented migrants may try to evade the authorities, or avoid and refuse to seek medical treatment, for fear of their status. 

“It also bears reminding that there could be various reasons for the presence of these undocumented migrants. These range from cases of expired permits that have not been able to be renewed by employers due to restrictions on movement during the period of the MCO, asylum seekers who have yet to get their certification from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or those who are victims of long-term systemic failures, among others.” he added.

As such it called for a more sustainable solution, which should involve opportunities for amnesty and a regularisation programme to resolve these issues.  

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