KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 — The Malaysian Bar has urged the government to be more empathic and understanding when it comes to dealing with migrants in handling the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, regardless of their immigration status.
Its president AG Kalidas said that if migrants are arrested in large numbers, this could potentially lead to an increased risk of their exposure to the virus.
“Actions of herding arrested persons in groups could lead to the formation of new clusters in prisons and detention centres. These government policies to curb the spread of the virus may likely result in a high number of Covid-19 cases,” he said in a statement.
Kalidas expressed his concern over Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin’s remarks that that stronger measures will be taken against undocumented migrants in Malaysia during the full-scale lockdown period, which began today and will run until June 14.
“This contradicts the assurance made by the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin cum National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme coordinating minister, stated that undocumented migrants will not be arrested if they came forward for vaccinations.
“We sincerely hope the government will not renege on the assurance made by the YB Khairy in guaranteeing that undocumented migrants will be spared, as we worry that migrants will evade the authorities and refuse to seek medical treatment or vaccination, for fear of arrests if the authorities start taking enforcement actions against them,” he said.
Adding that it is crucial to foster trust and confidence between the government and migrants to ensure the latter will come forward, Kalidas said the authorities should allow all migrants to have access to testing, treatment and vaccination without the fear of arrest or detention.
“It is during these dire times that the government should be compassionate towards migrants, which represent one of the most vulnerable groups in our country. There are numerous reasons for the presence of these undocumented migrants in Malaysia.
“These range from cases of expired permits that could not be renewed by employers due to restrictions on movement during the movement control order, to the failure of the employers of migrant workers to legalise them or renew the work permits, some of these through no fault of the migrant. Further, with borders closed, there are migrants stranded in Malaysia as they are unable to return to their home countries,” he said.
Kalidas said a sustainable solution in this situation is necessary, which should involve opportunities for a comprehensive amnesty and regularisation programme that can resolve this issue holistically.
“This is not the time for the government to penalise undocumented migrants. With surging numbers and the economic difficulties faced by the country, it must channel resources and manpower to expedite the vaccination process to achieve herd immunity to combat the pandemic collectively as a society, regardless of nationality,” he said.