Malaysian senior minister defends detention of illegal immigrants during COVID-19 pandemic


Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob today defended the policies of Putrajaya, one of the cities in Malaysiá, on undocumented migrants during the COVID-19 outbreak, hitting out at those who label their treatment as “inhumane”.

At a press conference on Wednesday (May 27), he said Malaysia needed migrant workers, and that those who entered legally were given rights and protection in line with domestic and international laws.

He said action was only taken against undocumented migrants who were detained. Even then, he added, they were treated humanely and given food and shelter.

He was responding to criticisms by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) against the arrests of illegal immigrants at the time of a worldwide health crisis.

“The thing is SUHAKAM may be confused. There are two categories of foreign workers, one of them have permits.

“This category is protected. They are given housing. We know we need them, so we take good care of them and we comply by what is said by the International Labour Organization,” he said.

Mr. Ismail Sabri, who is also the defence minister, explained that it is the second category of immigrants that is problematic.

“Because they come in without documents. These are those who were detained. Even then we looked after them, got them tested and treated. But, their status remains illegal, they are here illegally,” he stressed.

Mr. Ismail Sabri added that the Malaysian government has discussed with the home countries of the detained immigrants to take them back.

“We don’t even want to arrest them, but we can’t give them special treatment because they went against the laws of the country,” he said.

He further explained that the detention of illegal immigrants that took place in areas placed under enhanced movement control order (EMCO) was not by intention.

“For example, at the EMCO, 586 illegals were found in Selangor Mansion.

“When the EMCO was over, we wanted to open up the barbed wires for the people to move around, but the illegals don’t have travel documents. If we let them go then we are wrong by immigration laws. That is why we brought them to the depot,” he said.

COVID-19 clusters have been identified at three immigration detention centres in Malaysia since last week. As of Wednesday, a total of 383 foreigners at the detention depots tested positive for the coronavirus.

The cumulative total in Malaysia is 7,619 cases, with 115 deaths. The country recorded 15 new cases on Wednesday, the lowest since the movement control order was put in place on March 18. (Source: CNA)