Focus on curbing infections, not going after migrants during lockdown

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Lawyers for Liberty is deeply concerned that Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has stated that the Immigration Department will be conducting a mass operation against undocumented migrants during the two-week lockdown.

This underhanded strategy of utilising the movement control order to target and harass undocumented migrants is puzzling as it does nothing to curb the spread of Covid. It is important for the government to ensure the cooperation of the migrant community throughout the lockdown to lower the infection numbers, but the massive crackdown will only serve to scare the migrants into hiding – which will put them and the community at large in danger.

Furthermore, after the various Covid clusters emerging from prisons and detention centres throughout Malaysia last year, the government should be well aware that large-scale incarceration will only result in increasing the number of Covid cases. This is extremely concerning, especially with infections now numbering in the thousands daily, and new clusters will unnecessarily burden our already overextended healthcare system.

Despite the home minister’s insistence that there are supposedly satellite prisons and detention centres to accommodate them, this does little to alleviate our concerns. There is no guarantee that these detention centres are large enough to contain the mass number of arrests that the government is intending to do, nor do we know if there are systems in place that will be able to avoid a Covid outbreak.

We again remind the government that undocumented migrants are largely victims of unscrupulous employers and agents and become “illegal” due to exploitation of ineffective government policies. Any concerted effort to solve the issue therefore should be to take stern and immediate action against them, and not to punish the migrants who are already struggling due to the pandemic.

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Hence, we urge the government to reconsider its plan to conduct the mass operation against undocumented migrants. There is no sense to send migrants to our already overcrowded prison and detention centres. The focus now should be on stopping the spread of Covid and implementing substantial aid to help those in need to survive the lockdown.

Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty

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