JAG calls for halt to raids, arrests of women and children migrants

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

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) strongly condemns the continued arrest and detention of women and children migrants by the Immigration Department and local authorities that happened recently.

According to the policy brief on children affected by arrest and immigration detention during Covid-19 by the End Child Detention Network, children and other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, disabled and sick are particularly vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic and must be protected regardless of their ethnicity, religion and nationality. They are detained in confined and unsanitary conditions for prolonged periods of time where social distancing is not physically possible. Not only that, they lack proper nutrition and have restricted access to public health, resulting in their having poor health conditions.

The raid and detention of migrants have resulted in them being held in detention centres in the country. Primarily, all detention is separation – from family, community and access to critical services. It is well-documented that conditions in Malaysia’s detention centres are poor, with overcrowding and insufficient hygiene facilities, access to nutrition and healthcare.

When the movement control order/conditional movement control order was introduced, it was to stop the pandemic and break the chain of transmission. However, the lack of proper hygiene guidelines and social distancing measures poses serious health risks to these groups, including the officers on duty. This, in result, will encourage new chains of transmissions.

The detention and raids pose negative impacts to growing children, even if they are detained for a short period of time. All children need continuous love and support as it is crucial to their growth. Children who undergo the trauma of detention, being separated from their families, their mothers especially, or being handcuffed will suffer cognitive development problems, resulting in the compromise of their physical and psychological wellbeing. They will also suffer heightened risk of depression and anxiety and exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which they will carry with them into adulthood, as stated in the Child Rights Coalition Malaysia’s statement entitled, “Stop the Arrest & Detention of Children under the MCO”, which was issued on 27 April 2020.

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Furthermore, in its concluding observations, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) in its Malaysia 2018 review, raised concerns on the use of immigration detention and the refoulement of women as well as the lack of access to justice and healthcare of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless women and girls in detention.

The committee highlighted the need to establish alternatives to detention for migrants, asylum-seeking and refugee women and girls and, in the meantime to take concrete measures to ensure that detained women and girls have access to adequate hygiene facilities and products and are assured access to justice and recourse to effective remedies.

As a follow-up measure, the Cedaw Committee has requested the Malaysian government to provide by March 2020, written information on the steps taken to implement recommendations related to refugee and asylum-seeking women.

The detention and mistreatment of women and children migrants are not aligned with the ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) by Malaysia in 1995. The CRC is an international human rights treaty which upholds the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of all children under the age of 18. Article 3 of the CRC has stated that the wellbeing and best interests of all children must be paramount in all decisions made by the state.

Thus, it is pertinent that the government must act in line with the Child Act 2001 (as amended in 2018) to ensure that all children, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or nationality are protected from all harm and abuse. The act of arresting and raiding migrants must be stopped immediately, and we strongly urge the government to halt all raids and arrests and to safely release them.

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As opposed to arrests, we strongly suggest that the government adopt alternative measures to detention such as free screening and treatment of Covid-19 for all foreigners, regardless of their immigration status during the movement control order as mentioned by the Ministry of Health on 1 May 2020.

The statement has been welcomed by the UN (New Straits Times, 2 May 2020) entitled “UN: Use alternatives to detention in fight against Covid-19”.

We also urge the government to extend its support to migrants during this movement control order/conditional movement control order period by consulting NGOs and individuals who worked on the ground to provide necessities to these vulnerable groups so that a structured plan is prepared.

Endorsed by the following JAG member organisations:

  • Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  • All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
  • Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
  • Justice for Sisters (JFS)
  • Knowledge and Rights with Young People through Safer Spaces (Kryss)
  • Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
  • Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  • Perak Women for Women (PWW)
  • Sabah Women’s Action-Resource Group (Sawo)
  • Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  • Tenaganita
  • Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  • Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
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