We told you so, say groups on Covid-19 spike at detention centres

Noel Achariam

Civil societies are taking the government to task for failing to heed their warnings on herding illegal migrants into detention centres, which are now the sites of new Covid-19 clusters. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Afif Abd Halim, May 28, 2020.

PUTRAJAYA should explain how it is going to deal with the increase in Covid-19 cases at Immigration detention centres after it was repeatedly warned to stop going after undocumented migrants during the movement-control order (MCO), civil society groups said.

They told The Malaysian Insight the current spike in Covid-19 infections at three detention centres – Bukit Jalil, Semenyih and Sepang – was an incident waiting to happen.

Everyone could see it coming, they said, but Putrajaya turned a deaf ear to the warning.

They are now concerned that if the situation is not dealt with swiftly, then there will be a second wave of Covid-19 infections, which could set the country back further.

To date, there are 384 cases at the detention centres – Bukit Jalil (282), Semenyih (66) and Sepang (36).

There are 4,739 illegal migrants at the three immigration centres.

Prominent social activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan said the spike was “so very predictable”.

“Not only was the manner in which they (illegal migrants) were rounded up unnecessary, they have all now been exposed to the risk of contracting Covid-19.

“Civil society groups kept warning the authorities but they did not listen,” Ambiga told The Malaysian Insight.

The former National Human Rights Society (Hakam) president said the tragedy is that even those who did not have the virus are now exposed to it.

“This includes children. They are now being held in unsafe conditions. The crackdown also drove many underground.

“All of this was preventable. We are entirely responsible for putting all of them at risk,” she said.

Ambiga said something must be done immediately to address this issue.

Rights groups say the government’s heavy-handed action against illegals have driven many underground, who now refuse to get tested for Covid-19. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, May 28, 2020.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) project manager Dobby Chew told The Malaysian Insight that Putrajaya had ignored the advice of civil society groups and now had to control the spread.

“The government cannot wash their hands and put the blame on foreigners for the spike in cases as they carried out the large-scale raids.

“It is probably too late to stop the spread at detention centres but an action plan is needed in terms of how the government will provide necessary healthcare without compromising the preparations for the potential post-Raya outbreak,” Chew said.

The government also needs to identify and ensure all officers involved with detained foreigners are provided with the necessary support, she said.

“The government needs to cease all enforcement activities and start thinking in terms of health and safety first. It needs to deal with this matter and prevent it from escalating further.”

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Putrajaya will repatriate all illegal migrants who test negative for Covid-19 at immigration detention centres.

He said the Foreign Affairs Ministry will be contacting their respective embassies to discuss how to carry out the repatriation exercise.

The government is preparing more facilities to treat undocumented migrants if there is a spike, he added.

Address spike immediately

Eliminating Death and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT) executive director Khalid Ismath said they are not against arresting illegal migrants, but it should not be done during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To arrest hundreds more now will make the situation worse.  

“This is not a wise step taken by the government. We previously told the government to have mass testing for the illegal migrants.

“They now feel threatened by authorities so they will not come out,” he said.

Khalid said they are disappointed that the Home Ministry did not take their advice and warnings seriously.

“The government should take this as a lesson to come up with better procedures.

“If the government can open a medical counter, then I believe they (undocumented migrants) will come to be tested because they are not afraid of medical officers. What they are afraid of are police and immigration officers.”

Tenaganita executive director Glorene A. Das said the spike in cases is clearly the responsibility of the Immigration Department and some ministers.

“They never gave importance to our grave concerns in our earlier calls to stop detaining people and sending them to holding and detention centres.

“I feel no priority was given to test, screen or even practise social distancing at the camps because they are undocumented, so they were deemed to be treated as criminals,” she said.

“Monitoring visits are necessary by independent bodies, since the UN special rapporteur has taken a special interest and expressed serious concerns. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) should also intervene.”

Glorene also urged the government to continue testing and screening undocumented migrants with no arrests and detentions as promised earlier.

“They should also immediately repatriate those in detention camps.”

In a Facebook post on Hari Raya, director-general of health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said negative sentiments against detainees must not be amplified and must not be a catalyst for discrimination in saving lives.

“As the virus ravages these centres, we need to enhance the active cases detection and isolate and treat those positive cases immediately.

“Quarantine those close contacts and decontaminate the respective centres.

“Our government and whole community approach should work together to fight the virus.” – May 28, 2020.

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  • Let's wait for all of this to be over and look at data and see who made the right / wrong decision. Look at all the possible unintended consequences as well.

    Posted 4 years ago by H. Mokhtar · Reply