PETALING JAYA: Opposition MPs have renewed their call for the tightening of controls against illegal immigration, saying the ineffectiveness of current controls has led to an increase in the spread of disease.
This follows a claim by a former director of the Institute of Respiratory Medicine, Abdul Razak Muttalif, that infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), leptospirosis and rabies were making a comeback.
Speaking to FMT, Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen blamed “bad policies” for the rise of these diseases in the country.
He said two of the contributing factors were an increase in the number of illegal immigrants and the policy of making it compulsory for hospitals to report on them when they seek treatment.
“Once the illegals are here, the problem is exacerbated because of the bad policy,” he said. “This essentially drives infectious disease sufferers underground, making it impossible for authorities to track and stop outbreaks of diseases such as TB,” he said.
There is no reliable record of the number of illegal immigrants in the country. Estimates have put the figure at between one million and four million.
Wong said preventing the entry of illegal immigrants was the responsibility of the home ministry and should not be placed on the shoulders of health officials. He said the government seemed to have confused immigration policies with public health policies.
“The public hospitals should treat patients irrespective of their status so that we can combat these outbreaks,” he said.
Klang MP Charles Santiago said he had heard of cases of employers bribing Immigration officials to allow them to keep their undocumented workers or hire new ones.
“State Immigration departments might not be the ones involved in the issuing of new permits or extension of permits, but they close their eyes because they are paid off by companies who are using undocumented workers,” he told FMT.
“It’s likely that this is happening all around the country. How else do you explain the millions of undocumented workers in the country?”
He cited a Sinar Harian report in 2014 which quoted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had placed the Immigration Department at the top of its list of agencies taking bribes.
Sungai Siput MP Michael Jeyakumar told FMT that a large number of legal immigrants ended up becoming illegal after running away from abusive employers.
“They are bullied by their employers,” he said. “They are either physically abused or denied proper pay. So they go to the underground market and become illegal because their right to defend themselves is practically non-existent and they can’t afford to go back to their own country.”
Jeyakumar, who is a practising doctor, agreed with Wong that illegal immigrants posed a threat to public health because of the difficulty they faced in receiving healthcare.
“Screening is not possible,” he said. “When they come in legally, they are screened, but after the first year, they run away and then they will not be screened again.”
Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said an increase in the number of migrant workers in the country could eventually put a strain on the health budget.
He noted that the levy paid for foreign workers, instead of being used to benefit them directly, were added as income in the government’s budget and distributed to the various ministries.
“No ministry has the right to pocket that income,” he told FMT.
He said a more comprehensive system was needed, adding that different ministries needed to work together to address the issue.
“If the government thinks that the money from the levy is too little to take care of the migrant workers’ health needs, then it will have to start thinking of telling the human resources ministry to get employers to start contributing some money. That would be a comprehensive look.
“The human resources ministry cannot say ‘Oh, I’m only looking at human resource. For health, you have to go talk to the health ministry.’ You can’t be that disjointed.”
Budget 2016, tabled by the prime minister in October 2015, saw the health ministry receiving RM23.031 billion or 8.6% of the total budget, RM269 million less than the previous year’s allocation.
* Ivy Chong contributed to this article.