No discrimination in treatment of migrants during COVID-19 pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants in the country were not discriminated against even when 207 new cases were recorded among them within 24 hours on June 4.

All of these cases involved illegal immigrants at the Immigration detention depots.

In other words, those infected are migrants who entered Malaysia illegally, but that does not mean that the group was discriminated against or treated unfairly.

Instead, starting May 25, the government had decided that all illegal immigrants who tested positive for COVID-19 be sent to the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS) which served as a quarantine centre.

At the quarantine centre with 600 beds, COVID-19-positive patients were treated until they recovered, regardless of status and background.

They were also provided with good food and drinks, even when the quarantine centre was surrounded by barbed wire aimed at preventing the group from fleeing and here they are patients, not prisoners.

In fact, the authorities could not risk the group spreading the virus to the people, especially since they are undocumented and difficult to detect.

Earlier, in areas where the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) was enforced, including in Masjid India and surrounding areas dominated by foreign nationals, the group was required to undergo Covid-19 screening.

As with other EMCO locations around the country at that time, all incoming and outgoing traffic was prohibited and police and military personnel manned the areas. Food supplies were sent to those within the EMCO areas.

“They were treated as patients. No difference was shown in the treatment of citizens and non-citizens,” said Malaysian Islamic Medical Association Action and Assistance Team (IMARET) chief coordinator Dr Ahmad Munawar Helmi Salim.

IMARET is among the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) helping the Health Ministry set up a medical base in the Masjid India area, including at Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion, where the EMCO was enforced from April 14 to May 4.

An Al Jazeera, 20-minute 50-seconds, documentary titled ‘Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown’, released on July 4, claimed discrimination against foreigners in terms of treatment when Malaysia took control measures to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

In fact after April 29, the risk of the infection spreading among foreign nationals was worrying despite infections among local residents declining.

The risk of transmission among foreigners was high as most of these groups live in crowded and dirty areas, said Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Public Health Specialist (Epidemiology and Biostatistics), Associate Professor Dr Malina Osman, who was quoted by the local media earlier.

It was also feared the same thing would happen at Immigration detention depots packed with illegal immigrants, which saw the authorities deciding to transfer the COVID-19-positive cases to the MAEPS quarantine centre. To date, 63,743 foreigners have undergone COVID-19 screening with 2,581 or four per cent having tested positive.

What is certain, as emphasised by Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah at the COVID-19 press conference today, is that measures taken to handle the COVID-19 outbreak was ‘without discrimination’ and regardless of whether they are locals, foreigners or illegal immigrants.


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