Global rights groups, activists condemn ‘mindless’ swoop on migrants amid hate campaign

A screengrab from a video shared on Twitter shows hundreds of foreigners walking in close proximity along Jalan Masjid India, an area locked down under Covid-19 measures, after they were arrested by immigration officials.

PETALING JAYA: Local and international human rights activists have criticised a sting operation targeting undocumented migrants at Jalan Masjid India yesterday, with one group describing the swoop by immigration authorities as “mindless and inane”.

Local rights activist Adrian Pereira said the raid, carried out by immigration and police personnel, could also create fear and distrust among migrants at a time when their cooperation was needed in the tracing of Covid-19 cases.

“This is a major setback to the efforts we have been taking to bridge the trust deficit between migrants and the government,” he told FMT.

“Flexing muscles now may backfire as it will push migrants back from coming forward for health checks.”

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson  described the raid as “mindless and inane”, saying it would deter migrants living elsewhere in the country from cooperating in efforts against Covid-19.

He said Putrajaya, instead of looking out for public health, seemed more interested in promoting xenophobic policies that would instigate Malaysians against helpless foreigners.

Adrian meanwhile questioned whether the immigration authorities had consulted the health ministry before carrying out the raid.

Yesterday, residents of the area told FMT that about 300 immigration officers took part in the operation, which was conducted in the morning. They said people whose work permits had expired were arrested.

Pictures and video recordings shared online show long lines of people being led away by the authorities.

A Menara City One resident told FMT officers went door-to-door asking to see residents’ documents.

Migrants rights group Tenaganita accused Putrajaya of breaking its promise to cease acting against undocumented migrants in order to encourage them to seek testing for Covid-19 infection.

Its executive director Glorene Dass noted that many of those arrested were Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan and said this made the crackdown particularly ruthless.

She also denounced the arrest of minors, noting that some were as young as one year old.

Yesterday, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the matter came under the purview of the home ministry.

“Our job in the health ministry is to ensure that they are not infected, whether they are documented migrants, undocumented migrants or Malaysian citizens,” he said.

Bangkok-based rights activist John Quinley III said the authorities were creating an “environment of fear” among migrants and refugees.

This could deter government efforts to fight Covid-19, he told FMT.

Quinley, part of Fortify Rights, urged the authorities to stop detaining people based on their immigration status and to instead focus on providing for vulnerable communities.

He noted that the raid came amid an ongoing hate campaign against refugees, particularly the Rohingya, and urged the government to speak out against such maliciousness.

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