A UN human rights expert has expressed alarm over the Malaysian government’s ongoing crackdown on migrants, journalists and civil society in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am alarmed by what is happening in Malaysia after the initially positive attitude of the government towards an inclusive response to the pandemic,” said Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said on Thursday.
González Morales said that three raids starting from May 01, as well as the threat of future raids, have spread fear among migrant communities.
“The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” he said. “We urge the Malaysian authorities to refrain from raiding locked-down areas to arrest and detain migrants.”
“In such a situation, migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus,” he said.
The climate of fear is made worse by the marked increase of hate speech against migrants in recent weeks.
Human rights defenders have also been threatened for supporting migrants, and journalists have been hindered in reporting about the raids.
The Special Rapporteur’s call was backed by other UN human rights experts, who said they are also concerned about the detention of more than 350 migrants, including children, older persons and other vulnerable individuals, in overcrowded immigration detention facilities.
“Alternatives to detention should always be considered first,” González Morales said. “This is even more important when facing a pandemic, as physical distancing and other preventive measures may not be available in detention facilities.”
Reports also indicated plans to deport the detained migrants to their countries of origin, and it remains unclear whether the migrants have access to lawyers and can challenge their detention and deportation.
“If migrants are deported without assessing every case individually, the government may effectively put people at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in their countries of origin. This would breach the fundamental non-refoulement principle,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.
The UN experts are following the issue closely and have contacted the relevant authorities. (Source: OHCHR)