Inoculating undocumented workers helps in whole community-based herd immunity
According to a World Bank report it estimates there are some 2.96 to 3.26 million migrant workers, including 1.23 to 1.46 million migrant workers in irregular situations, who were residing in Malaysia in 2017 (World Bank 2019). To put this in perspective 1 out of 10 persons in Malaysia is estimated to be undocumented. There may be more.
We need to keep in mind there are also undocumented women migrant workers in urban areas that go house to house offering cleaning services. They live across Malaysia, from Sabah to plantations in Johor. They are a part of our communities.
Facts in the past few months have also shown Covid -19 clusters among factory workers. According to the latest report (NST July 14) fifteen out of the 26 new Covid-19 clusters identified by the Health Ministry are workplace clusters. There are many undocumented migrants who work in factories as well. They often live in crowded living conditions too, which places them in higher risk for Covid-19.
Herd immunity cannot work on the basis of separating the undocumented persons from Malaysians. Undocumented workers carry a heavier risk since they live on the margins, fearing arrest. They may feel afraid to report Covid-19 cases, and not seek healthcare.
Many foreign workers, refugees and stateless are still undocumented as a result of the incompetence and arrogance of the Home Ministry. It boils down to their management of the system and reluctance for change, that so many of these workers over many years are still undocumented and some even have been victims of crime syndicates.
It was the then Home Minister who is the current Prime Minister who rejected the recommendations in a report by the special independent committee on foreign worker management led by former Court of Appeal judge Hishammudin Yunus.
The primary purpose of this committee when I set it up after it was sanctioned by Cabinet in 2018, was to stop unethical, unhealthy and unfair practices of recruitment of foreign workers that arrive in Malaysia.
The committee published the comprehensive report which included 40 recommendations that I presented to Cabinet for deliberation.
Among the core recommendations:
1. Establishment of the Ministry of Human Resources as the single authority for the management of all foreign workers.
2. Development of an end – to- end single online system for recruitment of foreign labour.
3. A maximum of 10 years for continuous hire of a foreign worker.
4. Regularization of all undocumented workers with a flexible amnesty programme along with meaningful access to justice where necessary.
5. Abolishment of the Outsourcing License for foreign labour supply.
Not one proposal or recommendation has been implemented till this date. Worse, the report was never made public, despite me publically calling for it to be made so.
Now the current harsh inhumane approach taken by the Home Minister to arrest these undocumented persons will only make it harder to control the already spiralling Covid 19 situation in the country.
By continuing this approach, they will drive these workers deeper into hiding. Separating or targeting them on the basis of being undocumented is unjust in the current pandemic situation and it also violates International Labour conventions.
Therefore, a better alternative is to have a general amnesty for the undocumented migrants and start a mobile vaccination drive in collaboration with civil society organizations to go all around the country to vaccinate them. This amnesty could be a temporary measure, with a further review on circumstances that have made individuals undocumented and their role in Malaysia’s economy.
Even though the government intends full vaccinations of Malaysians by December, the country would still be unsafe until a large segment of migrant workers, documented or undocumented are inoculated.
International reports have proven that there are people in society who are hesitant or refuse to take the vaccine and some have taken to the streets to protest. Every person willing to have a vaccine should be vaccinated. Now that as we work towards enough supply, vaccines should be extended to all undocumented persons.
Vaccinating foreign undocumented, refugees and stateless persons would be cost effective and cheaper to what may happen if they were not. The vaccine will not only help save their lives but also reduce costs on the health system and help us end the lockdowns that are currently devastating our economy and society.
We need to make Malaysia safer. To do this we need to vaccine everyone. Covid does not discriminate. We should not do so either. The time for the lock-them-up and lock-us-down approaches must end. We can do this by treating others how we ourselves want to be treated, with dignity and humanity, and in the process make us all safer.
M. Kula Segaran, MP Ipoh Barat
27th July 2021
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