Rights lawyers are alarmed at the manner in which authorities conducted a raid against migrant workers under the cover of the so-called Ops Patuh, criticising the treatment of those suspected of visa offences as hardened criminals and questioning a deputy minister for himself breaching immigration department SOPs.
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said the pre-dawn crackdown on foreign workers in Selayang today, in which dozens were seen chained to each other while being led into a truck, showed a worrying trend in the wake of controversial remarks by the home ministry against migrants.
LFL also questioned the need for such measures when the investigation was over an administrative matter to check the authenticity of their documents.
“If the sole purpose of the raid was to check the authenticity of their work documents, then their subsequent arrest is unnecessary as matters could be resolved without resorting to prolonged detention,” LFL coordinator Zaid Malek told MalaysiaNow.
Among the 72 foreigners who were arrested, 39 were UNHCR cardholders.
Zaid said the arrest of those issued with the UN refugee status card was worrying, and showed a trend of the authorities’ “disdain against UNHCR’s operation in Malaysia”.
“The fact that they are detained for ‘further investigation’ on their documents is extremely dubious,” he added.
He said Ops Patuh, which the home ministry claims is to ensure SOP compliance among migrants during the movement control order, is a “thinly veiled cover” to put migrants in detention centres.
Zaid also questioned Deputy Home Minister Ismail Mohamed Said who was present during the raid for wearing the uniform of an immigration enforcement officer.
“If adherence to SOPs is truly paramount, then the immigration department should have acted against the deputy home minister, who for some unknown reason decided to dress himself up as an immigration officer during the raid, in clear breach of immigration department SOPs,” he added.
Attempts to obtain a response from Ismail and immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud have been in vain.
Activists and medical experts have warned that such a move could undermine the government’s vaccination drive despite assurances given to the migrant community that they would not be arrested.
Last year, Putrajaya assured that it would suspend immigration crackdowns as a humanitarian gesture during the Covid-19 crisis. The government had also pledged to extend its free vaccination drive to include all foreigners including those without legal papers.
Hamzah’s anti-migrant stand was made worse by a poster shared on the immigration department’s Twitter account on June 11, which was condemned as xenophobic by rights group Amnesty International over its messages against Rohingya refugees.