PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today urged the government not to overlook the Orang Asli community, many of whom it said were not included in the distribution of the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) scheme.
It said a dialogue with 80 NGOs, civil society organisations and community members on April 20 which discussed Orang Asli issues during the movement control order (MCO) found that in spite of assurances given by ministries, NGOs had reported that aid packages were delivered to registered Orang Asli villages while unregistered ones were missed or overlooked.
“Due to the MCO, Orang Asli are unable to work or sell their farm or forest produce to earn a daily income, resulting in their inability to purchase other basic necessities to supplement their regular subsistence,” it said in a statement.
“The Orang Asli face challenges in claiming their benefits from the BPN economic stimulus package as many are illiterate or lack information about registration for BPN.”
BPN, a RM250 billion economic stimulus package announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on March 27, offers cash handouts and rebates to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Suhakam said among the other concerns highlighted at the dialogue session were the risk of Orang Asli communities being infected with Covid-19 from those who distribute aid due to insufficient masks and sanitiser.
“Due to their communal social system, low levels of immunity and poor health status, there is deep concern that the disease will spread easily among the Orang Asli once a person is infected,” it said.
“Some Orang Asli children are out of reach following their family’s retreat into forests out of fear of the pandemic, while others are unable to access online classes due to the unavailability of computers and internet connection.”
Suhakam recommended that the health ministry form a working committee consisting of Orang Asli representatives who could assist in identifying, implementing, monitoring and reporting on community health needs as well as necessary interventions such as psycho-social support and counselling.
The commission also suggested that telecommunication services be extended to remote areas to enable access to medical information through telemedicine services, adding that relevant health information in the form of audiovisual materials in the indigenous languages could also be provided.
Other recommendations from the April 20 dialogue include requesting the education ministry to provide necessary tools for remote learning with cooperation from teachers and the Orang Asli Development Department, as well as making available financial support for every Orang Asli child and youth to return to school, college or higher learning institution post-MCO.
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