Don’t lock up illegal workers

Adding new people to temporary prisons will only stretch the already limited resources even more thinly

by LYDIA NATHAN  / Pic by TMR FILE PIX

MASS arrest and imprisonment of undocumented foreign workers while the pandemic is rife should be out of the question.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of Prisons and All Places of Detention said the government should learn from past mistakes like the third wave in September 2020 that culminated from prison clusters in Sabah.

The group was responding to Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin’s announcement on May 29, that the Immigration Department, National Registration Department and the police were set to conduct a joint operation to detain undocumented foreign workers during the two-week lockdown.

“It is not a viable option to control the pandemic, especially when more than 109 countries have followed the evidence and implemented decongestion measures and alternatives to incarceration.

“We remain behind despite making initial progress,” it said in a statement yesterday.

The group said among ways to break the chain include not leaving anyone behind, especially the ones most vulnerable like prisoners and migrant workers.

It added that adding new people to temporary prisons will only stretch the already limited resources even more thinly.

“Adding more people into temporary prisons goes against the expert advice and global evidence because it is not only counterproductive to our overall effort to stem the transmission of the virus, but it can also further endanger the public by creating new hotbeds for Covid-19 clusters.

The group said locking up undocumented migrants will deter them from getting vaccination, which beats the aim of achieving herd immunity in the country.

“Thus, our country will continue to be very susceptible to new variants and mutations of the virus while wasting billions of ringgit and human resources to curtail the spread,” it said.

Meanwhile, they lauded Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar’s proposal to discuss the mass detention of immigrants with the home affairs minister.

“The government must reconsider its suggestion of detaining undocumented migrants and instead, focus on efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.

“We also urge the government to consider alternative measures to imprisonment for lockdown offences. “It is time to seriously rethink punitive approaches and accept that Covid-19 requires a health approach,” it said.