Have moratorium on arrests of illegals, Bar Council man urges govt

Undocumented migrants held during a swoop in Kuala Lumpur waiting to be processed.

PETALING JAYA: The co-chairman of a Bar Council committee has urged Putrajaya to announce a moratorium on the detention of undocumented migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an online discussion on the migrant community, co-chairman of the Bar Council’s Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee M Ramachelvam said the issue of undocumented migrants was an important matter for many Malaysians.

He said the number of undocumented migrants here was high, ranging from 1.5 million to four million.

“This group of people has totally no legal rights whatsoever. The only policy we have thus far is arrest and deport them.

“Previously, there were amnesty and regularisation programmes. There was one that started in 2017 and ended in 2018, with 800,000 undocumented migrants coming forward to be regularised.

M Ramachelvam

“What the government needs to do right now is to announce a moratorium on the arrest and detention of migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, adding that a policy for amnesty and regularisation of the community can then be drawn up thereafter.

Ramachelvam also dismissed the notion that migrants were stealing employment opportunities from locals, highlighting that previous studies by the World Bank and government think tank Ilmia suggested otherwise.

He said the study found that Malaysians were not interested in the jobs and sectors that migrants usually enter, adding that there was no competition as migrants were merely filling the gap.

It also found that 836 full-time and 169 part-time employment opportunities were created for Malaysians for every 1,000 migrants employed, he said.

“Malaysians would then be able to work in the skilled sector rather than being stuck in low-skilled employment.

“Statistically, it’s insignificant as far as migrants taking jobs from locals. To add to that, migrants prop up major sectors of our economy.”

‘Stop hateful sentiments against migrants’

Ramachelvam expressed disappointment at the rising hateful sentiment against migrants, blaming it on false perspectives toward the community.

He stressed this was rooted in a deep fear of “the other”, partly fanned by online media, adding that it occurs without any solid evidence to justify the hatred.

He appealed to Malaysians to treat the migrant community humanely and with respect, whether they were documented or undocumented migrants, refugees or asylum-seekers.

He said many of them had left their home countries for the sake of their families, taking up jobs and providing invaluable services to Malaysians.

“If one reflects, can we for a moment live a day of our lives without a migrant worker doing something for us?

“In various sectors of our economy, from haircuts to so many daily things, we have taken them for granted. And quite a number of them are undocumented as well,” he said.

Ramachelvam also urged government leaders to speak up for the community and to take a strong stand against xenophobic sentiments against migrants.

He also urged the enforcement authorities to practise the rule of law, highlighting that action should be taken against hate speech and fake news propagated against migrants.

“We need political leaders, religious leaders and civil society leaders to step up and say the right thing, not fan the flames of bigotry and xenophobia in our society,” he said.

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