No refugees arrested under MCO so far, says UN body

UNHCR says the movement control order has been especially hard on refugees and asylum-seekers.

PETALING JAYA: No refugees or asylum-seekers have been arrested since Malaysia shut down public activities, the UN refugee agency said today.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it receives between 50 to 70 telephone calls every day since the movement control order was enforced on March 18.

Nearly half the calls are linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, said a spokesman for the agency in Kuala Lumpur.

The federal government has said that undocumented persons and those with expired documents – including refugees and asylum-seekers – would not be arrested when seeking medical treatment.

The UNHCR spokesman said most of the callers to its hotline, which is available in six languages, would enquire about symptoms, how to get screened, cost and other questions regarding the disease.

“Other calls received are related to requests for assistance in this difficult time, including financial help and food aid,” the spokesman told FMT.

Apart from handling their queries by trained staff, the spokesman says that refugees are also referred to , where information on Covid-19 is available.

The spokesman said the agency also ensures that updated information is distributed to refugees quickly in “languages they understand”.

“The communities are furthermore kept abreast of the Covid-19 restriction of movement order issued by the government.”

The MCO, which was enforced to curb the spread of the outbreak and recently extended to Apr 14, has been “particularly difficult” on refugee and asylum-seeker families, the spokesman said.

This as many who worked in informal sectors have lost an income, while others have lost sources of humanitarian or private support and therefore many are not able to provide for their families.

“Our focus is to work with our partner NGOs and other civil society groups to provide food rations, hygiene items or cash assistance for as many vulnerable individuals as we can to bridge this difficult time.

UNHCR welcomed Putrajaya’s announcement that no refugees would be arrested when approaching medical facilities.

The announcement was an important step to build trust and confidence helping all who need medical attention to come forward, the spokesman said.