Member of Parliament Lim Kit Siang has called on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to announce amnesty for undocumented migrants so as to ensure the smooth rollout of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Programme.
The MP’s call came after 156 undocumented migrants at an illegal settlement in Cyberjaya were sprayed with disinfectant and subsequently detained by officers from multiple government departments, including immigration, police, and civil defence force. The incident, which took place over the weekend, drew the ire of health experts and human rights activists alike.
“I call on Muhyiddin to announce an amnesty for undocumented migrants, fully backed by all political parties and Parliament, to give priority to the war against the COVID-19 pandemic.” said Lim in a statement today. Lim is also a member of the opposition’s Democratic Action Party and represents Iskandar Puteri.
The affected migrants were originally from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar.
Two other opposition MPs have also questioned authorities for spraying undocumented migrants with disinfectant, calling the practice “inhumane” and “degrading.” A video of the incident showed disinfectant being sprayed over the hands and heads of those who were detained as they sat on the floor.
“If they want to disinfect anyone, whether it is a migrant or Malaysian citizen, we must treat them with some respect, not make them sit on the ground and spray disinfectant on them as if they are animals,” Bandar Kuching MP Kelvin Yii said
Immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said they used the Dettol-brand disinfectant on the migrants, as well as on immigration officers and himself. The World Health Organization last year advised against spraying disinfectant on individuals as it may cause skin and eye irritation.
Klang MP Charles Santiago said it was illogical and “strategically wrong” to go after undocumented migrants at a time when the country should be focusing on managing the pandemic through vaccination and testing, adding that detaining undocumented migrants during this time would only push the rest of the community to go into hiding.
In February, vaccination coordinating minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that undocumented foreign nationals would not be arrested when coming forward for vaccinations since it was more important to ensure that everyone was immunized. However, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said last month that the immigration department would be conducting operations to detain undocumented migrants during the ongoing two-week lockdown, and that prison authorities were ready to allocate additional detention centres for those who might get arrested. Hamzah doubled down on Thursday by announcing that undocumented migrants would not be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines since they were considered illegal persons
In light of all the confusion, Lim urged Muhyiddin to intervene.
“Muhyiddin should come forward to end such chronic confusion and uncertainty in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lim said. “Malaysia will never achieve herd immunity if the home ministry creates conditions that drive undocumented migrants into hiding instead of encouraging them to come forward for vaccination.”
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