Billboard in Kuala Lumpur showing Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (Simon Roughneen)
Billboard in Kuala Lumpur showing Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – The United Nations has labelled recent round-ups of undocumented foreign workers as “alarming” and called on the Malaysian government “to refrain from raiding locked-down areas.”

“The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” said Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry, several “clusters” of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been found in migrant worker communities, leading to the areas being cordoned off.

Around 200 migrants from countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia were nabbed by police in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, the latest in a series of raids that have seen least 1,800 people detained in the month of May.

Journalists and civil society groups reporting on or criticizing the round-ups have faced the ire of Malaysian authorities, with a reporter for the South China Morning Post questioned by police in early May.

The UN believes that detaining migrants could undermine the campaign to eradicate Covid-19 in Malaysia, which has reported 7,059 cases and 114 related deaths.

“In such a situation, migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus,” Morales said.

The International Labour Organization estimates that foreigners make up 30 per cent of the workforce in Malaysia, the third-wealthiest country in South East Asia. The World Bank in 2019 put the number of undocumented workers in the country at over 1.3 million.

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