The planned immigration enforcement operations to be conducted during the upcoming lockdown as recently announced by Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin, is alarming and should be cause for tremendous concern.
A tweet from Immigration director-general Khairul Dzalmiee Daud which appeared to confirm this planned action, said “We are going after illegal immigrants who live and work in this beloved country without any documents, not paying tax and levy but reap all the benefits. We are protecting the rights of local people.”
It is baffling that the immigration department would again decide to undertake such an exercise during this public health emergency which is becoming increasingly dire. Last year’s enforcement activities which resulted in thousands of people from the migrant communities being vulnerable, at risk of infection and becoming infected in detention due to those operations, should have guided the government’s decision on this issue.
Just as it was done before in 2020, this would be a major mistake. You do not conduct such operations during a public health emergency, especially a pandemic. It is self-defeating.
If it proceeds, this would be the second time that lockdowns are treated as an opportunity to conduct immigration enforcement operations.
In March last year, after reassuring that undocumented migrants would not be arrested and detained, especially those who were seeking to test and access medical care, the government implemented a massive immigration crackdown in areas under emergency lockdown.
Those actions have contributed to a trust deficit that has previously discouraged people from these vulnerable communities to come forward to be screened, diagnosed and treated. It will now threaten the government’s hard work to urgently vaccinate the population and achieve herd immunity.
Such actions are contrary to public health objectives.
In February, Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin stated that the government was looking to build trust with the undocumented migrant community, working with civil society to help vaccinate the vulnerable. He specifically stated that they would not be detained and could come forward freely to be vaccinated.
The Covid-19 epidemic in Malaysia today is not where it was in 2020. We are in the fourth wave where the situation is more grim, tenuous and teetering on the brink.
Thousands each day are becoming infected, with more being hospitalised and needing immediate critical care. Dozens of deaths are reported each day. If permitted to proceed, immigration enforcement operations could result in multiple spreader events, massive spikes of infection among migrants, before and during detention, adding new cases where there were few or none.
It has happened before. Why should we allow history to repeat itself, and cause harm to our Covid-19 response?
Azrul Mohd Khalib is Chief Executive of the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.