The United Nations office in Malaysia has voiced concern over the home ministry’s move to conduct large-scale operations to detain undocumented immigrants during the lockdown period, saying a crackdown on migrants during a health crisis could seriously undermine the public health objective and lead to adverse results despite the minister’s claim that this will help the nation’s vaccination programme.
In a statement to MalaysiaNow, it said it had held discussions with the government on the importance of guarantees from repercussions such as temporary exemptions or moratoriums from detention and deportation.
“Throughout the pandemic, the UN in Malaysia has been strongly advocating for the inclusion of migrants, refugees and undocumented persons in the Covid-19 response and the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK),” it said.
“To win the fight against Covid-19, one of the most powerful tools is mass vaccination, in addition to the continued use of public health measures such as physical distancing, wearing of masks and handwashing.
“If a sizeable majority of the population is vaccinated, it will help reduce transmission of the disease and greatly limit severe Covid-19 cases and deaths.”
Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin had yesterday defended the plan to detain undocumented migrants, saying it was to ensure that they have valid documents for vaccination purposes.
He said the government could not administer vaccines to those without documents, and that the vaccination exercise was to achieve herd immunity.
“Some parties had objected to the plan (to detain illegal immigrants) but it has to be made clear that if those detained do not have (valid) documents, how are we to include them in the vaccination programme?
“The government cannot give vaccines to this group because every vaccination registration programme requires valid documents,” he said.
Hamzah also said his ministry would ask employers of undocumented migrants to obtain valid documents from their embassies before they are vaccinated against the virus.
On Feb 17, Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister in charge of PICK, said discussions would be held with the authorities to ensure that undocumented workers are not detained when they come forward for vaccination.
“Those who do not possess documentation must approach their embassies to be brought out and vaccinated without being arrested,” he said.
On March 22, he reiterated that undocumented migrants would not be arrested if they turn up to get jabbed.
“The position of the government is we will be providing vaccination free for all in Malaysia, including undocumented migrants and asylum seekers with the assurance that they will not be detained or reported,” he said.
Noting these assurances, the UN commended the approach, calling it an inclusive strategy to keep the entire population safe.
“These vulnerable groups should also have meaningful access to information so that they are aware of the vaccination plans and where to access the services,” it said.
“The public health logic in a pandemic is that nobody is safe unless everyone is safe.”
Migrant rights activist Adrien Pereira meanwhile said a conclusive plan is needed to solve the issue of undocumented migrants during the Covid-19 crisis.
Noting that Malaysia was now more than a year into the pandemic, he said the home minister must come up with policies that align with the national agenda.
“The home ministry must make its policies but these must be harmonised with the national agenda,” he told MalaysiaNow.