Ready to help vaccinate migrants

PETALING JAYA: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and civil society organisations are ready to help to reach out to refugees and undocumented migrants for Covid-19 vaccination.

UNHCR associate public health officer Dr Susheela Balasundaram said they welcomed the announcement that all foreign citizens would have access to the Covid-19 vaccines at no cost under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.

“UNHCR stands ready to continue providing support to the government of Malaysia in its Covid-19 response, including in the Immunisation Programme.

“Where the Malaysian government requires our support, UNHCR is ready to assist in mobilising and reaching out to the refugee and asylum-seeking communities, including through relevant communications efforts and community engagement, and in line with the Ministry of Health vaccine preparedness communications plan.

“We look forward to participating in planning meetings on the implementation of the Immunisation Programme led by the government, especially where it affects refugees and asylum seekers, ” said Dr Balasundaram.

On Sunday, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said talks were being held with UNHCR, NGOs and civil society groups to ensure vaccination of undocumented migrants and refugees was done to gain herd immunity in the country.

Dr Balasundaram said that UNHCR also welcomed the statement by the government that undocumented foreigners who came forward for vaccination would not be arrested.

Since March last year, some of the measures taken include coordinating and supporting the distribution of food, hygiene items and cash assistance, working to ensure the updated information is distributed to refugees quickly and in languages they comprehend, and establishing telephone hotlines in eight languages for refugees who may not be able to access the national crisis hotlines during the movement control order, among others.

As at end of December last year, there were 178,610 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Malaysia chief of mission Kendra Rinas said the pivotal first step in ensuring that undocumented migrants came forward for vaccination was taking a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.

“The information on vaccination and possible amnesty of detention should be conveyed in ways that are culturally and language appropriate, and reach all communities throughout Malaysia, ” she said.

Rinas said unofficial numbers estimated that there were some 1.2 million to four million undocumented migrants in Malaysia.

Asylum Access Malaysia executive director Tham Hui Ying said although it had not been approached by the government, the organisation was looking forward to working together with the government to ensure refugees and asylum seekers had access to the vaccination programme.

“A non-detention policy or directive would also help, ” added Tham.

Malaysian Human Rights Commission commissioner Gerald Joseph said the government was taking a correct approach in assuring undocumented workers that they would not be detained if they came forward to be vaccinated.

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