ILO cautions against arrest of undocumented migrants

The authorities have been criticised by local and international human rights groups for arresting and detaining undocumented workers in Kuala Lumpur.

PETALING JAYA: The International Labour Organization (ILO) has cautioned that the arrest and detention of undocumented migrants will have negative consequences in the fight against Covid-19.

In its policy recommendations as part of its report on the Covid-19 impact on migrant workers in Malaysia, the ILO said the fear of sanctions for immigration violations could push undocumented migrant workers further into hiding and prevent them from seeking treatment.

It said this would affect the health of migrant workers and increase the risk of infection to others.

The authorities were recently criticised by local and international human rights groups for arresting and detaining undocumented workers in Kuala Lumpur.

The ILO said the virus outbreak coupled with the partial lockdown had affected migrant workers, especially those earning daily wages who were now unable to work.

“Many of these migrant workers have run out of money and need to rely on food aid distributed by the government and civil society organisations,” it said.

It also noted common migrant worker labour rights violations reported by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress including unfair termination, unpaid wages, poor living conditions, forced labour in non-essential jobs and uncertainty over their employment status.

“Concerns are also mounting about spread of the virus in crowded immigration detention centres and in migrant workers’ housing.”

ILO’s other policy recommendations include reconfirming that all migrant workers including undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers will be given free Covid-19 testing and treatment.

It also suggested measures to prevent the spread of the virus in immigration detention centres and migrant workers’ housing, and for workers who are unable to work during the movement control order period to receive payments and benefits.

“All migrant workers, including irregular migrant workers, should have access to legal remedies and compensation for unfair treatment, and language interpretation services where necessary.

“Ensure that the employers of migrant workers in essential services, such as the manufacturing of rubber gloves, identify and mitigate all risks of Covid-19 exposure and respect labour rights of migrant workers,” it said.

It also urged employers to provide guidelines on occupational safety as well as health measures and hygienic practices in languages that workers can understand.

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