Updated: June 09, 2021 06:54 AM GMT
A policeman looks on at a roadblock during Malaysia's nationwide lockdown amid fears over the spread of Covid-19 in Kuala Lumpur on June 1. (Photo: AFP)
A group of more than 20 civil society groups have appealed to the Malaysian government to initiate a national moratorium on raids and the detention of illegal workers until everyone in the country is vaccinated against Covid-19.
They said a planned crackdown on undocumented migrant workers is “state-endorsed violence” aimed at the most vulnerable group of people in the country.
“Rounding them up has never been a good strategy and more so at the time of a pandemic. It raises concerns of possible new infections and clusters, just like what we saw in immigration detention centers last year,” they said in a statement.
“This continues to put the lives of millions of migrant workers and Malaysians in jeopardy. Undocumented migrants consist of many different groups of people who are themselves victims."
The list of groups urging the moratorium includes Beyond Borders Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation, Parti Sosialis Malaysia, ALTSEAN-Burma and the Centre for Independent Journalism.
They estimated that 95 percent of undocumented migrants in Malaysia were in that position because of violations by agents, employers and human traffickers.
We understand the government’s concerns to get everyone vaccinated, but detaining undocumented workers isn’t the right approach to do so
“There have also been many public reports showing the involvement of national enforcement officers and public servants in the trafficking of migrants into the country," they said.
“We understand the government’s concerns to get everyone vaccinated, but detaining undocumented workers isn’t the right approach to do so. Instead, there must be a consultative process in decision-making with community leaders and non-governmental organizations.”
Malaysia’s efforts to combat the disease have fallen desperately short of expectations and the government was forced to impose a total lockdown at the end of May after its rate of confirmed Covid-19 cases surpassed India on a per capita basis.
A sharp spike, which began in early April, has taken the national tally to more than 622,000 cases with 3,460 deaths amid fears the government has put business interests ahead of public health.
The civil society groups also appealed for royal intervention from the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, to stop any crackdown, adding the vaccination process must be led by one agency, the Jawatankuasa Khas Jaminan Akses Vaksin, and be kept as a humanitarian and health program, not security.
“And there must be a revamp of the immigration process as currently the Immigration Act supersedes all other legislation in the country and causes the victimization of many migrants for faults not of their own," the group said.
“We also propose that immigration offenses be seen as administrative offenses and not use it to criminalize fellow humans for merely wanting a livelihood across the border.”