Malaysian human rights group warns against overcrowding in detention centres, says stricter Covid-19 SOPs needed

A foreign worker is screened for Covid-19 at a clinic in Kuala Lumpur May 15, 2020. — Picture by Choo Choy May
A foreign worker is screened for Covid-19 at a clinic in Kuala Lumpur May 15, 2020. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — Eliminating Deaths & Abuse In Custody Together (EDICT) urged authorities to stop its practice of cramping undocumented foreigners in over-crowded detention centres.

The human rights group expressed grave concern over the recent Covid-19 cluster which emerged from the Immigration Department's Bukit Jalil custody depot and the subsequent testing of 645 foreigners there.

According to latest reports, 35 of the detained immigrants have tested positive for the virus, while 400 have tested negative. Another 210 detainees are still awaiting their results.

“We have repeatedly warned that incarcerating persons during them movement control order is counter-productive as it violates the criterion of social distancing which is essential for controlling the spread of Covid-19,” said the watchdog in a statement.

Although EDICT acknowledged that Malaysia’s national borders must be respected and enforcement of immigration laws established by Parliament must be carried out, it warned against the potential for spreading of Covid-19 by people who live in close quarters.

“We believe that the 'solution' of rounding them up and putting them in even more cramped quarters is counter-productive and runs counter to the caring spirit of Malaysians.

“Thus we call upon the government to establish proper standard operating procedures (SOP), procure the necessary equipment and infrastructure, train enforcement personnel and test the SOPs, before enforcing the law,” it said.

EDICT also expressed concern about the physical and emotional welfare of Immigration Department enforcement officers and all persons who work in the detention centres, be it wardens, service providers or medical staff.

“The absence of any clear SOPs means the sweeping up of undocumented workers exposes public officers to traumas which may even lead to death. We also call upon the government to survey the detainees to establish why they are in Malaysia in contravention of the law, as it is plausible that public officers have been complicit in enabling their presence in Malaysia.

“The presence of large numbers of undocumented workers in Malaysia must be handled with great care. It must be handled in a humane way, under the law, without exposing long-suffering public officers to avoidable risks, and the root causes of the presence of undocumented persons must be addressed,” said the watchdog.

Yesterday, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the Bukit Jalil cluster patients have been sent to a makeshift treatment centre in Serdang for screening and isolation. Further tests in the Semenyih custody depot revealed two more positive cases.

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