Covid-19: Undocumented migrants still fearful to be screened, says Doctors without Borders

KUALA LUMPUR: The government may have allowed suspected undocumented foreigners to be tested and treated for Covid-19 for free but they are still fearful of the existing policy that requires doctors to report them, said Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors without Borders.

MSF head of mission in Malaysia Beatrice Lau said that the government should repeal Circular 10/ 2001 that requires doctors to report "illegal immigrants" seeking healthcare services to the police and immigration authorities.

"Undocumented migrants have been living under a constant threat of arrest when visiting healthcare facilities since Circular 10/2001 was first put in place almost 20 years ago," she said in a statement on Tuesday (March 24).

She added that it was commendable that Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri on March 22 announced that the government has agreed to neither look into the legal status nor take any action against foreigners for being in the country without legal status during Covid-19 screening.

Lau however said the fact remains that these statements were strongly linked to the tabligh gathering made it unclear for those individuals not linked to the event.

"MSF therefore calls for an unequivocal repeal of Circular 10/2001 by the Ministry of Health," she said.

She said that repealing Circular 10/ 2001 will also allow healthcare providers to uphold their professional and ethical obligation by providing medical care to patients in need, regardless of immigration status.

It is also the right time for other relevant ministries and government agencies, such as the Home Ministry, National Security Council and Immigration Department, to express the political will to support the initiative, she said.

"The challenge Malaysia now faces in achieving better contact tracing during the Covid-19 outbreak clearly illustrates the negative impact of no separation between access to medical care and Immigration services," she said.

As a medical humanitarian organisation providing healthcare to refugees and vulnerable populations, MSF has witnessed how the fear of being reported to Immigration services has deterred many patients from seeking proper and timely treatment, said Lau.

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