Coronavirus: Comprehensive policy for migrant workers needed

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Photograph: The roads travelled for work - Women Migrant Workers in Singapore and Malaysia by UN Women Gallery/Flickr

The present policies and the existing barriers excluding migrants from access to healthcare threaten the health security of all, M Ramachelvam writes.

There are at present two million documented migrant workers in Malaysia. The number of undocumented migrant workers is estimated to be 1.5 million to four million.

Migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable groups that are disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of them have been left without employment and social and health security.

The lack of decent housing and accommodation prevents the implementation of proactive measures which could further trigger the spread of the virus.

There are at present many barriers facing migrant workers to access healthcare facilities. These barriers include access, costs, language, fear of arrest and detention.

Undocumented migrant workers face added vulnerabilities as they are deemed illegal and have no rights within the legal system. They live in the shadow and margins of society with no legal rights whatsoever.

The present policy of the government is to arrest and deport undocumented workers. Further, the existing policy requires doctors to report undocumented migrants seeking healthcare to police and immigration authorities.

The present policies and the existing barriers excluding migrants from access to healthcare threaten the health security of all.

The government should:

  • embark on a policy that should not discriminate in providing healthcare access including for testing and treatment of Covid-19 for migrants regardless of their status without fear of arrest or detention
  • work with the employers of migrant workers, missions of the countries of origin and civil society organisations in reaching out to migrant communities to ensure that they have the relevant information and access to healthcare facilities
  • have a moratorium on the arrest and detention of migrants for immigration-related offences during this pandemic
  • ensure the rights of migrant workers to salaries, wages and benefits are preserved and protected
  • ensure compliance with all labour laws including laws pertaining to housing, accommodation, occupational safety and health including regulations and policies pertaining to Covid-19
  • put in place an amnesty and legalisation programme for undocumented migrant workers to overcome the issue of undocumented workers in Malaysia
READ MORE:  Malaysia's migrant money trail

Dato’ Sri M Ramachelvam is deputy president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam)

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