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COVID-19 infections in Immigration Detention Centres


EDICT notes with grave concern the results of testing of 645 foreigners detained in the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Centre.

According to reports, 35 detainees have been confirmed positive for COVID-19, 210 detainees are awaiting results and 400 detainees tested negative.

EDICT reminds the government that we are a nation under the rule of law and that detainees, even if they are foreigners, must be treated with dignity and that public officers are responsible for their health and wellbeing.

EDICT notes that the Prisons Department – arguably with better staff and facilities – raised the alarm on 5 April and asked that Movement Control Order (MCO) violators not be sent to the 39 prisons it manages.

EDICT notes that the government is actively rounding up and detaining foreigners whom it deems “undocumented.”

EDICT has repeatedly warned that incarcerating persons during the MCO is counter-productive as it violates the criterion of social distancing which is essential for controlling the spread of COVID-19.

EDICT recognizes that the potential for spreading of COVID-19 by people who live in close quarters must be handled with great care. EDICT also recognizes that Malaysia’s national borders must be respected and enforcement of immigration laws established by Parliament must be done.

EDICT however believes that the “solution” of rounding them up and putting them in even more cramped quarters is counter-productive and runs counter to the caring spirit of Malaysians.

EDICT calls upon the government to establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), procure the necessary equipment and infrastructure, train enforcement personnel and test the SOP, before enforcing the law.

EDICT calls upon the government to cease cramping undocumented foreigners in over-crowded centres.

EDICT calls upon the government to tell the public what steps it has taken or is taking to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the detention centres and to fulfil its duty of care to the detainees who have tested positive.

EDICT is deeply concerned about the physical and emotional welfare of enforcement officers and all persons who work in the detention centres, whether wardens, service providers or medical staff. Absent clear SOPs, the sweeping up of undocumented workers exposes public officers to traumas which may even lead to death.

EDICT also calls upon the government to survey the detainees to establish why they are in Malaysia in contravention of the law. It is not impossible that public officers have been complicit in enabling their presence in Malaysia.

The presence of large numbers of undocumented workers in Malaysia must be handled with great care. It must be handled in a humane way, under the law, without exposing long-suffering public officers to avoidable risks. The root causes of the presence of undocumented persons must be addressed.

EDICT 22 May 2020

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©2020 by Eliminating Deaths & Abuse In Custody Together (EDICT).