Give undocumented migrants amnesty and they will cooperate, says lawyer

Undocumented migrants being rounded up in a recent raid by the immigration department in the wake of spikes in Covid-19 cases involving foreign workers.

PETALING JAYA: A human rights lawyer has urged Putrajaya to grant undocumented migrants amnesty, saying this will make them more inclined to cooperate with authorities in efforts to curb Covid-19 infections.

Zaid Malek, who is coordinator for rights group Lawyers for Liberty, voiced concern over an FMT report that undocumented migrants had been fleeing to the jungles in a bid to avoid detention centres, which have been reporting a spike in infections.

Authorities have also been cracking down on undocumented migrants, but Zaid said these raids come at a cost.

“For rounding up a few hundred, you lose the cooperation of millions of undocumented migrants,” he told FMT.

“This is why we are urging the government to grant them amnesty to ensure their cooperation in testing.”

The raids in parts of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya came despite assurances that there would be no action against undocumented foreigners during the movement control order, enforced on March 18.

Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador said on May 2 that the operations involving police, immigration authorities, the armed forces and health ministry were to ensure that no undocumented migrants leave identified zones and spread the virus to other locations.

But Zaid said the crackdowns would strike fear in the migrants and cause them to run away without any incentive to cooperate.

He added that those who were rounded up would be placed in detention centres which would put them at risk of contracting Covid-19.

“Any rise in cases among migrants is a concern for Malaysians as our frontliners who are handling them at the detention centres will also be exposed.”

He said the government had granted amnesty to undocumented migrants many times before, citing the “Back for Good” programme carried out last year.

Under the programme which ran from August to December, those who wished to return to their countries had to obtain identification documents from their embassies, pay a compound fine of RM700 and produce their flight tickets back home.

“The government has the capacity to do it,” Zaid said, “and with Covid-19, the need for this is even greater.”

He said the focus in combating the virus should be getting migrants to come forward for screening.

“The key to this cooperation is goodwill, and that will come from the amnesty.”

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