Hundreds of migrant workers and refugees were detained in a crackdown on Covid-19 ‘red zones’ in Masjid India and Menara City One yesterday.
Forces from the civil defence, the police and immigration forces raided three buildings in Kuala Lumpur in a large-scale Labour Day operation to weed out undocumented foreigners as part of the efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Inspector-General of police Abdul Hamid Bador said in a statement that the joint operation is to ensure the no undocumented migrants will slip away and spread the virus somewhere else.
“The main objective of the operations is to make sure they cannot move freely while the movement control order (MCO) is still enforced. It will be difficult for us to track them down if they leave identified locations,” he said.
The three buildings are thought to house more than 5,000 people, mostly migrant workers who live an average of 10 people to a three- or four-room unit.
According to a migrant worker, the officers shouted at them to stop looking out and shut their windows.
“I saw the residents being loaded onto lorries and taken away, all we are doing now is wait,” the worker said.
Activists criticised the raids, saying that the government had recently given assurances that illegal immigrants should not fear identifying themselves to the authorities if they believed they had contracted the virus.
Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) pointed out that the arrests of undocumented migrants in Kuala Lumpur are a serious setback in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The detentions send a chilling message to the millions of other undocumented migrants that they will be detained if they come forward for treatment with Covid 19 symptoms or if they come out to be tested,” LFL adviser N Surendran said in a statement.
“Like other nations across the world, our priority is to get rid of Covid 19 from our communities. How can this be achieved if the millions of undocumented workers in Malaysia are too afraid to cooperate?”
He said now there is the risk of new Covid 19 clusters appearing in immigration detention centres or police lock-ups. Crowded detention centres would be a perfect breeding ground for the virus.
Surendran urged the government to place an immediate moratorium on all raids and detentions of undocumented workers “pending the struggle against the scourge of Covid-19.
Activists also said children and refugees had also been taken in the sweep.