Deporting refugees amidst pandemic creates lose-lose situation — Chiong Yoke Kong

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FEBRUARY 24 — The Perikatan Nasional government has been insistent on deporting refugees, including the very recent deportation of 1,086 people to Myanmar despite a court order to halt such an exercise. 

As Malaysia is facing immense challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the economic crisis, the government should not spend its remaining effort and resources to target refugees and undocumented migrants. 

Apart from that, any deportation of refugees and undocumented migrants at this juncture would only create a lose-lose situation because the financial situation and international standing of our country will be severely affected.

With the consent of the Malaysian government, the Myanmar military government sent navy ships through the Malaysian navy’s base in Lumut, Perak to bring Myanmar refugees back to Myanmar on February 23. This happened even though Amnesty International Malaysia and Asylum Access Malaysia obtained a temporary stay on February 23 to suspend the government’s plan to deport the Myanmar refugees.

It is therefore appalling that the Immigration Department blatantly went ahead with its deportation plan despite a court order against it. Such an act was a contempt of court that disregarded the rule of law. 

Myanmar migrants to be deported from Malaysia are seen inside an immigration truck, in Lumut February 23, 2021. — Reuters pic
Myanmar migrants to be deported from Malaysia are seen inside an immigration truck, in Lumut February 23, 2021. — Reuters pic

Besides that, the Immigration Department also said via its statement that the abovementioned action was only part of the plan to deport refugees and undocumented migrants. The Home Ministry and the Foreign Ministry would obtain the agreement of different countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh in order to repatriate their citizens who were currently detained in Malaysia’s immigration detention centres.

Although Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has publicly promised that the government will not arrest undocumented foreign workers who come forward to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, now the Immigration Department did not walk the talk, so how can the Government convince all undocumented foreign workers and their employers from participating in the vaccination programme in order to achieve the goal of herd immunity? 

In the wake of the predicament caused by the economic downturn and the spread of the pandemic, spending time and resources on repatriating refugees and undocumented migrants does not help at all to improve our financial situation. 

To make matters worse, Malaysia’s reputation has been badly affected because the PN government indirectly exacerbated the persecution against Rohingya refugees and other refugees who sought political asylum. 

Also, given the current complex and volatile international situation, the government should not act hastily but formulate a long-term and sustainable plan to deal with the issue of refugees and undocumented migrants.

For instance, many industries are now facing labour shortages. Instead of going to great lengths to repatriate refugees, the government should instead grant refugees short-term work permits so that they could be deployed in economic areas that are in urgent need of labour and recovery in order to create a win-win situation.

*This is a media statement by Chiong Yoke Kong, DAPSY Deputy Chairman and Pahang Tanah Rata State Assemblyman.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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