The recent outbreak of a least 35 cases of the Covid-19 virus reported at the Bukit Jalan Immigration detention depot shows that the Immigration Department may not have implemented testing or isolation SOPs for detainees during the Movement Control Order (MCO), and migrants are left to sink or swim against the virus.

I hold the Immigration Department responsible and urge them to explain how this could have happen. They must give full details on the immediate steps taken to prevent further spread of the virus as well as measures to protect the health of the detainees, including children.

According to the Health Director General, those infected had been housed at the detention depot from 18 March, prior to the start of the Movement Control Order (MCO). Surely MCO SOPs would have already been in place such as proper implementation of testing, isolation, and monitoring guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 at these detention depots.

The heartless and inhumane treatment by the authorities towards migrants by cattling them together, will only help in the spread of the virus. Not only will it affect the detainees, but it could also spread to immigration officers and others who are tending to the detainees.

Only now, with the detection of the cluster, are health services being directed to immigration detention depots. This is worrying is because there might be elderly, pregnant women and children who are being detained at the detention depots who are more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Yesterday, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Felipe Gonzalez Morales had criticised Malaysia’s recent crackdown on migrants. He said that due to the raids, migrants are not coming forward anymore for testing even if they show symptoms of the virus.

“Alternatives to detention should always be considered first,” González Morales said. “This is even more important when facing a pandemic, as physical distancing and other preventive measures may not be available in detention facilities.”

Furthermore, he also raised the issue of increased hate speech against migrants. Indeed, our attitude towards migrants reflect growing racist attitudes and a lack of respect for human rights. Stopping this must be a priority for all as there is a real threat that the xenophobia will grow and spread to other minority groups, and even vulnerable and marginalised communities in Malaysia.

Over the years, Government policy has successfully demonised migrant workers, making them scapegoats for causing increased crime rates, “stealing Malaysian women”, and being dirty and untouchable. All this feeds into the discrimination, prejudice and bias treatment of migrants.

However, migrants are enticed to come over when our economy needs them to do the dirty, low paying and difficult jobs. We even tend to look the other way even if migrants are undocumented as there is still huge profit to be made from this human trafficking.

The ultimate aim of the MCO, EMCO and CMCO is to flatten the curve of Covid-19 and these arrests will only heighten and worsen the fight against the virus, as seen at the Bukit Jalil depot.

I urge the Government to invoke a temporary amnesty for all foreigners and to encourage them to come forward to be tested. There must be clear assurance made by the authorities that they will not be arrested. Their undocumented status can be resolved after the CMCO is over, through just and fair laws, policies and procedures. The Government must take the treatment of migrants seriously especially during the Covid-19 outbreak. Do not treat and detain migrants like cattle. Place strict SOPs at detention camps immediately for those already under detention, like the ones implemented for Malaysians returning home from overseas.