Coronavirus: Government must announce policy on undocumented persons

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

We [the groups listed below] are deeply concerned that the government has not announced any coronavirus measures to address undocumented workers in Malaysia.

We note that according to official figures, there are over four million undocumented workers in Malaysia.

Many cases of abuse of foreign workers have been documented in Malaysia. Who doesn’t believe that undocumented foreign workers work long, exhausting hours for low pay? Worse, many have been jobless for nearly two weeks now and will continue jobless for much longer.

Public policy measures such as movement control orders have resulted in immense hardship for foreign workers.

Thankfully, the impact has been mitigated by feeding programmes initiated by many NGOs.

But that is not enough, because for tracing and isolation measures to work, foreign workers must be included as members of the infected and likely-to-be-infected members of the population.

Since they are undocumented and subject to penalties under Malaysian immigration laws, it is only natural that over four million people in our population will not seek testing or treatment.

We know from news reports that some foreign workers have been tested. We have also received an anonymous report that many foreign workers have been detained by the authorities in the past week.

We are concerned that the prime minister, in a widely disseminated speech on 23 March, said foreign workers must pay for testing and for treatment in Malaysian hospitals. This would surely have caused foreign workers to take special measures to avoid detection and treatment.

We are concerned that the PM’s announcement will lead to undetected cases and result in the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus. The movement control order, which has a great economic cost, will not meet its objectives.

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We are also concerned that police lock-ups and immigration detention centres may become clusters of Covid-19 cases if arrestees are not screened before they are ‘mixed’ with prior detainees. All public servants who are in contact with the arrestees will be exposed to the virus.

We therefore call on the prime minister to announce a general, time-limited amnesty and moratorium on enforcement raids by all agencies on migrant communities.

We are not calling for the government to stop border controls or anti-human trafficking actions. We are calling for actions to ensure that undocumented persons have safe passage to seek medical help and to survive. Announcements of such actions must be widely disseminated.

The formulation and communication of the amnesty requires careful thought. We urge that NGO representatives and public officials be consulted before the amnesty is finalised, announced and disseminated.

We further urge the home minister to announce what actions have been taken to filter arrestees and to care for detaineess and staff of detention centres who may be exposed to the coronavirus.

Endorsed by:

1. Eliminating Death and Abuse in Custody Together (Edict)
2. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
3. Concerned Lawyers For Justice (CLJ)
4. Tenaganita

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