Halt crackdown on migrants, media, civil societies: UN experts
Published on: Friday, May 22, 2020
By: Malay Mail
© Provided by Malay Mail Illegal immigrants are rounded up during a raid conducted by the Immigration Department of Malaysia and the police at the Selayang Baru area May 14, 2020. — Pictures by Hari Anggara
Several United Nations (UN) experts have today urged the Malaysian government to halt its crackdown on migrants, journalists, and civil society amid the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.In a joint statement, the group of 10 experts said they are alarmed by what is taking place in Malaysia following the government’s initial positive attitude towards an inclusive response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country.ADVERTISEMENT
“We urge the Malaysian authorities to refrain from raiding locked-down areas to arrest and detain migrants,” they said.
The statement was undersigned by UN special rapporteurs Felipe González Morales (human rights of migrants); Dainius Pūras (right to physical and mental health); Mary Lawlor (situation of human rights defenders); E. Tendayi Achiume (contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance); and Nils Melzer (torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment).
It was also signed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which included Leigh Toomey (chair-rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (vice-chair), José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Sètondji Roland Adjovi, and Seong-Phil Hong.
The Immigration Department had in recent weeks raided several movement control order (MCO) areas for undocumented migrants before detaining them, despite the Health Ministry previously telling migrants and refugees not to worry about their status when coming forward for Covid-19 testing.
The UN experts pointed out that raids conducted since May 1 as well as the threat of future raids, have spread fear among migrant communities.
“In such a situation, migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus.ADVERTISEMENT
“The climate of fear is made worse by the marked increase of hate speech against migrants in recent weeks,” they said.
“Human rights defenders have been threatened for supporting migrants, and journalists have been hindered in reporting about the raids. Such threats and hateful comments have also been made by individuals affiliated with the government, political parties and public officials.”
He was referring to social media users in Malaysia who have railed against the Rohingya community in general in recent months, accusing them of being lawbreakers and criminals.
According to them, other UN human rights experts have also voiced their concerns about the detention of more than hundreds migrants including children, older persons and other vulnerable individuals in overcrowded immigration detention facilities.
Urging for restraint, they said alternatives to detention should always be considered first.
“This is even more important when facing a pandemic, as physical distancing and other preventive measures may not be available in detention facilities.
“If migrants are deported without assessing every case individually, the government may effectively put people at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in their countries of origin. This would breach the fundamental non-refoulement principle,” they said.
While it remains unclear whether detained migrants were to be deported to their countries of origin, UN experts following the issue closely have contacted the relevant authorities over the matter.
The special rapporteurs and working groups are part of the UN Human Rights Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
They are volunteers who do not receive a salary for their work, and are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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