Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin was reported to have said on May 29, 2021, that the Immigration Department, National Registration Department (NRD), and the Royal Malaysia Police are set to conduct a joint operation to detain undocumented foreign workers during this two-week lockdown.
It is unacceptable that the government still considers the option of mass arrests and imprisonments as a viable option to control the pandemic, especially when more than 109 countries have followed the evidence and implemented decongestion measures and alternatives to incarceration. We remain behind despite making initial progress.
Have we forgotten the painful experience of the third wave in September 2020 culminating from prison clusters in Sabah?
Have we forgotten the over tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases over the past few months and currently happening in prisons across the country, threatening the lives of people in prison, prison staff, their families, and our communities at large?
We know that adding new people to temporary prisons spreads our limited resources even more thinly and is against the expert advice and global evidence. Not only is it counterproductive to our overall effort to stem the transmission of the virus, but it can further endanger the public by creating new hotbeds of Covid-19 clusters. No walls can contain any virus.
Equally detrimental to public health is that locking up undocumented migrants would also create a climate of fear that would deter the most vulnerable from volunteering to be vaccinated. Without their participation in the national vaccine programme, achieving herd immunity will be elusive.
Thus, our country will continue to be very susceptible to new variants and mutations of the virus, while wasting billions of ringgit and human resources to curtail the spread.
Soon after the statement by the Home Minister, it was of some relief that Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin was reported to have said that he would be discussing the proposal of mass detentions of immigrants with the Home Minister.
The All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of Prisons and All Places of Detention stands firmly with the science and evidence, and implores the government to learn from past experiences and not repeat the same mistakes.
We can no longer afford the same mistakes. The government must reconsider its suggestion of detaining undocumented migrants and, instead, focus on efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.
In the same vein, we urge the government to consider alternative measures to imprisonment for all Movement Control Order (MCO) lockdown offences. It is time for the government to seriously rethink its punitive approach and accept that Covid-19 requires a health approach.
The only way to break the chain of infections is to be inclusive in our public health management, including vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in our societies such as people in prison, migrant workers, and undocumented individuals, while also remembering that ‘prison health is public health’ and we must not leave anyone behind.
This media statement is endorsed by the following members of the All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of Prisons and All Places of Detention (APPGM): Azalina Othman Said, Rohani Abdul Karim, Nurul Izzah Anwar, Mohd Azis Jamman, Liew Chin Tong, Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman and Sangeet Kaur Deo.
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