Malaysia urged not to arrest migrants who take coronavirus test – dpa international


A street lined with Myanmar restaurants and shops in downtown Kuala Lumpur, a major destination for migrants (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Concerns are growing that as Malaysia’s coronavirus death toll rises, migrant workers who have risked potential exposure are not being tested due to fear of arrest.

The Malaysian government has stated that that undocumented migrants and refugees will not be detained if they come forward to be screened for Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

However the pledges have been criticized as belated and insufficient by organizations that assist some of Malaysia’s estimated 3 million migrant or expatriate workers.

Gurdial Singh Nijar, president of Hakam, the National Human Rights Society, said on Tuesday that the government should issue public directives to police and immigration officials, to further reassure migrants, who might otherwise fear “harassment or adverse consequences.”

Around two-thirds of Malaysia’s 1,624 cases of Covid-19 – the third-highest total in the Asia-Pacific – have been linked to an Islamic event conducted in Kuala Lumpur’s outskirts in late February that was attended by around 15,000 people.

According to a Malaysian Health Ministry statement on Tuesday, 10 of the country’s 15 coronavirus fatalities attended the event, where an estimated 2,000 migrants and refugees living in Malaysia also congregated.

Among the crowd were several hundred Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority from Myanmar that has been subjected to attempted genocide there, according to the United Nations.

Salim Hashim, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, said on Tuesday that the government should “allow all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, regardless of their status, access to free screening and treatment for Covid-19 without the fear of arrest and detention.”

“We do not want to see a situation where persons uncertain of their immigration status are afraid to come forward for screening seek treatment when they become ill,” said Salim.

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