KUALA LUMPUR: The arrest of undocumented foreign workers should stop as this will drive others like them into hiding and worsen the spread of Covid-19, say activists.
Instead, Aegile Fernandez – who has 37 years of experience in immigration and human-trafficking issues – said the government should work with NGOs, civil society and employers to educate migrant workers about the pandemic.
“If the undocumented foreign workers are treated with kindness, they will seek treatment if they are ill, ” she said.
Early this week, most of the Covid-19 clusters were discovered at three immigration detention depots and centres (DTIs) in Sepang, Bukit Jalil and Semenyih.
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that of the 172 cases tested positive in the country on Monday, 112 were from the DTIs.
The next day, 173 foreigners tested positive. Thirteen were security guards from Cheras.
The spike in cases, three-digit figures since May 3, has the public concerned but Dr Noor Hisham assured everyone that the DTIs were in isolated areas and under control by local authorities.
On the same day, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government would send DTI detainees to Covid-19 makeshift hospitals and deport those who were free of Covid-19.
Infectious disease consultant Datuk Dr Christopher Lee concurred with Aegile.
“If we feel they are a major risk group based on their close living conditions, then we need to engage them rather than make them hide from the authorities, ” he said.
Dr Lee also said that if the undocumented workers had acquired the infection inside the camps, then the authorities needed to sort out the hygiene and social distancing issues there although it would pose a challenge due to the huge numbers.
“Ethically, we still have to try our best to minimise the risks, ” he said.
Universiti Malaya senior research consultant academician Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit also said the Immigration Department should not detain undocumented migrants at this stage to prevent overcrowding.
“Detainees should be educated on how the virus is spread and about personal hygiene, including wearing of face masks, ” he said.
However, consultant public health physician Datuk Lokman Hakim Sulaiman agreed with the authorities that detaining undocumented workers would help minimise Covid-19’s spread to the general public and those tested negative should be deported.
“Who will foot their bill if all undocumented workers are required to be tested?” he said.
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