The International Migrants Alliance (IMA) raises serious concerns over the human rights situation of migrants in Malaysia as the emergency ordinance, in the words of Malaysia’s Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, would allow the armed forces to arrest undocumented migrants and put ‘them in a lock-up.”
On January 14, Mr. Yaakob announced the emergency ordinance, which according to him would allow the government to enact laws to better address the issue of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, in IMA’s perspective, targeting undocumented migrants once again in Malaysia’s fight to combat the pandemic only strengthens the Malaysia government’s complete disregard for the human rights, welfare and dignity of migrants and their families living and working in the country.
Since the start of the pandemic, massive crackdowns on undocumented migrants and refugees have already been documented, with thousands of them, including children, still in detention centers. The crackdown was supposedly to curb the increasing number of the virus infections. This, however, is not only false but also dangerous as the migrants run the risk of contracting the virus in Malaysia’s detention centers that are cramped and seriously lacking in hygiene.
Migrants in Malaysia have become more insecure under the pandemic. Already prohibited access to public health, migrant workers who find themselves in a no work-no pay situation or have been laid off during the pandemic have nowhere to turn in terms of assistance and might become undocumented due to unethical practices of some employers and recruitment agencies.
The IMA calls on the Malaysian government to instead develop a comprehensive health response to the pandemic that will include migrants and refugees regardless of their status. COVID-19 testing should be extended to migrants and that the COVID-19 vaccine, should it become available in the country, be provided for free to all, including migrants and refugees.
The IMA also supports the statement of its member organization Tenaganita calling on the government to stop demonizing migrants and instead rectify weaknesses in the Malaysia government’s system of dealing with the pandemic.
Strategically, we call on the Malaysian government to embrace a positive, human rights-based perspective of migration, regard migrants and their families as people and workers, and enact laws that are not only friendly to migrants but will protect their dignity and wellbeing.###