COVID-19 is not an excuse to crackdown on undocumented migrants

Responding to the statement by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) that illegal immigrants identified in areas under enhanced movement control order (EMCO) will be placed in detention centres after the order is lifted, Interim Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia Preethi Bhardwaj said,

“The EMCO is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, not act as a tool to round up undocumented migrants. This is an outrageous decision on the part of the authorities as placing people in detention exposes them to increased risk of contracting the virus.”

“Detention solely for immigration purposes is only allowed in the most exceptional of circumstances. During a global public health crisis, detention solely for migration-related reasons is unjustifiable. Immigration detention centres in Malaysia are well known for their poor conditions. In a time of a global pandemic, placing undocumented migrants in overcrowded and filthy detention centres and so-called special prisons will only accelerate the spread of COVID-19.”

“It is even more concerning that Taman Murni in Selayang is one of the places undocumented migrants will reportedly be rounded up. This area houses many Rohingya refugees who are at risk of being deported back to Myanmar where they face ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar government,” added Bhardwaj.

“Rather than locking people up, the authorities should seek to process migrant claims while ensuring people’s liberty. Healthcare goods, services, and facilities must be provided to everyone regardless of nationality. This extends to the undocumented immigrants and refugees who are particularly vulnerable in the pandemic.” said Bhardwaj.


On 20 April, Minister of Defence Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that eight areas in Kuala Lumpur would be placed under the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO).

Under the EMCO, all residents and visitors within the area are forbidden from exiting their homes during the order.

Amnesty International and others including the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia  (SUHAKAM) have documented inhumane conditions of detention and human rights abuses that take place in immigration detention centres around the country. According to SUHAKAM, between 2015 and 2017 there were more than 100 cases of deaths of detainees. Many of the casualties included Rohingya refugees. To date, the government has failed to respond adequately to concerns raised by international human rights organisations and the National Human Rights Commission.