KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — The government will not yield to human rights groups’ calls to stop arresting undocumented migrant workers during the Covid-19 epidemic, Ismail Sabri Yaakob said today.
The senior defence minister said no country in the world allows freedom of movement to immigrants who enter illegally.
“We arrest them because it’s against the law,” Ismail Sabri told a press conference.
“After we arrest them, then they’re positive (for Covid-19). They should be thankful to us.”
He pointed out that if infected undocumented migrant workers are not detained, they could spread the coronavirus to “our own innocent citizens”.
“What happens if the PATI (undocumented immigrants) meet with these dissatisfied people, won’t they also get infected by Covid-19?” Ismail Sabri said, referring to activists calling for a moratorium on the detention of undocumented immigrants.
The minister insisted that the government was trying to protect the safety and interest of Malaysian citizens.
“If we allow the PATI that enter our country illegally to move freely for human rights reasons, at the end of the day, it’s the majority of our people who will be affected.”
Medical professionals and human rights groups have criticised the arrests of undocumented migrant workers, saying this would only drive them underground instead of coming forward for testing.
They also previously raised concerns about Covid-19 clusters in overcrowded detention centres, which later proved true as the infectious disease broke out in three immigration detention depots in Sepang, Bukit Jalil, and Semenyih.
Health authorities yesterday reported 112 new Covid-19 cases in those immigration detention centres, all involving foreigners, out of 172 total new cases. A total of 227 people, all foreigners, have tested positive for the coronavirus in the three immigration detention depots as of yesterday.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah tweeted last night that a Malaysian admin staff at an immigration detention depot was confirmed to be infected with Covid-19. Health authorities are investigating if the source of infection came from detainees or from the outside community.
Ismail Sabri also announced today that swab tests would be done on all detainees at those three immigration detention centres. Undocumented migrant workers who test negative for coronavirus will be deported back to their home countries.
The government has also specified three treatment centres for coronavirus-positive undocumented immigrants — the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS), the National Leprosy Control Centre in Sungai Buloh, and the old delivery ward building in Kuala Lumpur Hospital.
These treatment centres are expected to fit 1,430 patients.
Ismail Sabri also explained that a new Covid-19 cluster was discovered at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur because the contractor had screened workers for coronavirus before resuming operations.
A total of 44 workers tested positive and were sent to Sungai Buloh Hospital for treatment. Coworkers who had close contact with the positive cases have also been quarantined.
The Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya Health Department has closed the construction site and the affected rumah kongsi, or workers’ accommodation. Cleaning and disinfection activities will be carried out.
Employers have screened 27,383 workers in construction sites for Covid-19, said the minister.