Press Statement

Large arrests of undocumented workers at Masjid India a serious setback in fight against Covid 19

2 May 2020


We refer to the arrest and detentions of large numbers of undocumented workers in Masjid India and Menara City One yesterday in a huge operation by Immigration and other enforcement bodies. Carried out suddenly in the midst of the ongoing battle against Covid 19, these mass arrests raise serious concerns.


Firstly, the detentions send a chilling message to the millions of other undocumented migrants that they will be detained if they come forward for treatment with Covid 19 symptoms or if they come out to be tested.


Like other nations across the world, our priority must surely be to get rid of Covid 19 from our communities. How is this to be achieved if the millions of undocumented workers in Malaysia become too afraid to cooperate in tackling the disease? It is believed that there may be up to 4 million undocumented workers in our country.


Singapore stands as an example of how widely the virus could have spread in migrant communities.


Viewed from the prism of the fight against Covid 19, there appears to be no discernible logic to these arrests.


Secondly, with these large new detentions in the midst of a pandemic, there is now the real risk of new Covid 19 clusters appearing in immigration detention centres or police lock-ups. Crowded detention centres would be a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Were they screened before being taken to places of detention?


Was social-distancing and other precautions taken during the operations yesterday? Footage of a large number of migrants being made to walk in a long line as well as of many migrants squatting together, suggests otherwise.


Thirdly, these detentions are not only ill-timed, but are futile in achieving the aim of controlling the migrant population.


The ballooning in numbers of undocumented migrants in Malaysia is caused by long-term failures in the management of migrant workers, including in the recruitment policies. The migrants themselves are hapless victims of poor policies and unscrupulous or abusive recruitment agencies and other stakeholders. This has been pointed out over and over again, but appears to have fallen on deaf ears in government. Whether BN, PH or PN, all appear uninterested to tackle the problem in a meaningful and humane manner.


We strongly urge the government to place an immediate moratorium on all raids and detentions of undocumented workers pending the struggle against the scourge of Covid 19. In the meantime, a thorough and comprehensive review must be made of the management and recruitment of migrant workers.


Issued by ,

N Surendran


Lawyers for Liberty