3 June 2021
Responding to the government’s insistence that immigration raids on migrant workers will continue during lockdown Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia said:
“Immigration raids on migrants when the country is facing its worst crisis yet in the pandemic, are cruel and inhumane. The MCO is meant to be used as a measure to fight COVID-19, not to abuse as a tool to hunt down, arrest and detain undocumented migrants.
The authorities must cease their latest round of raids, and release those detained immediately. Detention is never the solution to resolving immigration issues, not least during a health emergency. The series of immigration raids that began in May last year led to COVID-19 outbreaks in detention centres across the country. By the end of the month, close to 500 new cases were detected in four centres across the country. The Director General of the Ministry of Health Dr Noor Hisham then identified the cramped spaces of immigration detention centres as responsible for the rapid spread of the disease. This is why governments around the world, from Indonesia to the United States, have moved to reduce populations in detention centres even as Malaysia appears to be going out of its way to increase it instead.
We are also deeply disturbed by the argument that migrant workers are being rounded up to vaccinate them. Threats, fear and punishment are utterly incompatible with good, just, public health measures. The ongoing criminalisation of migrants and refugees creates anxiety and distrust, and will choke any vaccine outreach programme.
Like Malaysians, migrants and refugees should be provided accurate and evidence-based information so they can make an informed choice about vaccines. The government must stop creating barriers to access, and instead must make vaccines available and accessible for everyone without discrimination, including people without documentation.”
On 29 May, Minister of Home Affairs Hamzah Zainudin announced the government’s plan to begin detaining undocumented migrants during the nationwide lockdown that began on 1 June. He also said that new satellite prisons and immigration detention centres have been constructed in anticipation of the increase numbers of detainees.
The plan was criticised by civil society and members of parliament, including deputy speaker Azalina Othman and the All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM), which includes health experts such as Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Science Council.
Following criticism from elected representatives, Hamzah said on 3 June the purpose of the raids are to ensure that migrants will have the documents required for vaccination. In February, the Minister of Science and Technology, Khairy Jamaluddin, pledged that the government would not detain any undocumented migrants when they come forward for vaccination.