Treat undocumented workers right

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

Hakam has asked the government to treat all migrant workers – undocumented and documented as well asylum seekers and refugees – with compassion and humanity.

The statement by Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob that undocumented migrants who attended the tabligh gathering in Sri Petaling will not be penalised if they come forward to be screened for Covid-19 was assuring, although we wish it could have come much earlier.

However, there is a huge trust deficit between the government and these workers – because of how shoddily and uncaringly they have been treated in the past by the authorities.

To gain their confidence, the minister must come out with a clear written public declaration which must also be addressed to all the relevant agencies like the immigration and the police.

We must understand that all this while we, the Malaysian public, has enjoyed their services in restaurants, petrol stations, retail stores, markets, offices, and the like. They are at the bottom of the scale,
have scant protection and get by on dismal wages. Living in sub-conditions and away from their distant families and friends. A kind of isolation that we are only now beginning to understand – and sometimes
even complain about.

According to NGO Tenaganita, many have lost their income and are borrowing from friends and employers who will probably deduct their future wages to repay the debt.

Hakam asks the government to treat not just these workers with compassion and humanity but to extend it to all migrant workers: undocumented and documented, and include as well asylum seekers and refugees.

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First, make sure they are treated as we would our own: tested and looked after – without any harassment or adverse consequences.

Second, provide some financial assistance to help them tide over this unforeseen dire situation.

We cannot simply discard uncaringly those who have served us ungrudgingly at a time of our need.

Dato Dr Gurdial Singh Nijar is president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam), Malaysia

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