PETALING JAYA: A public health academic has called for an immigration amnesty on undocumented migrants, allowing them to be tested for Covid-19 without the fear of being detained or deported.
Universiti Malaya lecturer Dr Tharani Loganathan said an immigration amnesty was the best way forward, as mere assurances would not work due to loss in trust, after test and nab incidents in the past.
She said an amnesty during the pandemic period, and legalising them later, making sure they are insured, was best in the long run.
“These reassurances should be made by the whole government, including the immigration, National Security Council and the health ministry as well,” the public health specialist said.
Healthcare workers in Sabah have been reported to have faced difficulties in getting migrants tested for the virus, and similarly in other states where the infection among foreign worker hostels has been reported to be on the rise.
The Malaysian Medical Association urged the health ministry to drop an order requiring its hospitals and clinics to report illegals seeking medical treatment.
MMA president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said the measures called for in the order dated Sept 18, 2001, commonly referred to as “Circular 10/2001”, lay outside the scope of medical professionals.
Some doctors report migrants, others don’t
Checks by FMT at major hospitals in Kedah, the Klang Valley and Sabah showed mixed responses over the order to report undocumented migrants.
A doctor in Sabah said her hospital receives a lot of undocumented migrants but it has become a practice to not report them. Another doctor in Kedah said the order to report is strictly followed.
However, a government hospital in Selangor said it would be based on a case to case basis, where the severity of the patient’s health would be weighed in beforehand.
“It is our discretion to report or not to report, and the policy varies from time to time,” the doctor said.
Not doctor’s job to check immigration status
Tharani said Circular 10/2001 views non-citizens as a potential “national security threat” and doctors are placed in a difficult position of withholding care based on the legal status, which is against medical ethics.
Subramaniam said: “It is not the job of healthcare professionals or the staff to check identification and verify if patients have illegally entered the country. Healthcare is a fundamental human right and no one should fear coming to a healthcare facility to receive treatment.”
Subramaniam said a “softer approach” may prevent the migrant workers from fleeing out of fear for the authorities.
“Undocumented migrants are a high priority group to be tested for Covid-19 and better ways must be found to get them to cooperate. Reforms are also urgently needed at immigration depots to enable safe physical distancing of detained migrants,” he said.
Doctors Without Borders Malaysia recently urged the health ministry to create a firewall between healthcare services and security matters so that public health officials are not required to report migrants to the authorities.
FMT has sought comment from the health director-general.