“The youngest child was four years old. Four years old. There are videos of the raid, circulating… of migrants running, being detained, herded, made to squat, hosed down with Dettol, then marched into immigration vans, with no social distancing and into detention centres.”
So begins an impassioned Facebook post shared by children and refugee rights activist Hartini Zainudin.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, for God’s sake. There aren’t enough prisons and detention centres to hold everyone. Why do this?
“You cannot be afraid for Palestinian refugee children over there and be outraged at the fear and trauma over there but not care about the fear and trauma we inflict on refugees and migrant children over here,” said Hartini, who is founder of Yayasan Chow Kit, a foundation that runs a daycare centre for at-risk children.
She was referring to the plight of Palestinian children killed by Israeli assaults on Gaza following deadly clashes between its government and Hamas.
Yesterday, Hartini was one of six activists and 20 NGOs that sought the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s intervention to halt the ongoing crackdown on undocumented migrant workers when the country is aiming to achieve herd immunity by year-end.
Hartini also recalled previous raids on undocumented migrants, including children, in 2008.
“In 2008, there were immigration raids, just like the ones going on now. Except there wasn’t a pandemic then and people weren’t dying from getting infected.
“There would be rumours of raids, maybe a day in advance, and some of the groups would organise, hiding the children of refugees, while the parents ran into the jungle or abandoned buildings in fear.
“We’d have drop-off centres to hide the children. We could only take children under 12-years-old. Which meant separating older siblings from younger ones. Thirty-one children under 12 years older, silently filed up the stairs, clutching a pillow, blanket and a plastic bag – one plastic bag of belongings. They were so quiet. No playing, talking. I can’t imagine this fear and trauma,” she recounted.
Numerous undocumented migrants in Malaysia enter the country legally but are cheated by agents or employers and lose their status.
Yesterday, several health experts condemned authorities for spraying disinfectant on undocumented migrants during the raid on Sunday night.
This came after authorities purportedly sprayed Dettol disinfectant on immigrants arrested during the raid in Cyberjaya as well as Immigration Department officers participating in the raid.
“This is completely inhuman and harmful behaviour by the authorities,” said paediatrician Dr Amar Singh HSS, urging the Health Ministry to intervene.
“They are our fellow human beings. The spraying has absolutely no value,” he said.
World Health Organisation Science Council member Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, who has been vocal in criticising the government’s mass sanitisation exercises as not being in line with the current understanding of Covid-19, said she is lost for words over the incident.
“I am actually lost for words. Where has our humanity gone?” she asked.
Adeeba maintained that rounding up immigrants is counterproductive to Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
The Immigration Department’s video from the raid showed its officers being sprayed with disinfectants from the head to the bottom of their shoes, while footage from Malaysia Gazette showed that at least some detainees were sprayed in the face as well as their hands.
The Immigration Department defended its actions in a statement posted on its official Facebook page yesterday.
It said it had sprayed Dettol not only on undocumented migrants detained during the raid, but also on Immigration Department officers participating in the raid, including the department’s director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud.
“This was done to curb Covid-19 infections because their (the migrants’) living spaces are very dirty and crowded.
“The Immigration Department views seriously the reports and writings made maliciously to tarnish the department’s reputation,” it said.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin recently courted criticism over the latest round of crackdown on undocumented migrants, launched in conjunction with the current “total lockdown” effective from June 1 to June 14.
Responding to his critics, Hamzah said last Thursday that it would be impossible to administer Covid-19 vaccines on undocumented migrants and the operations were intended to “assist” them to register for a valid document, get vaccinated and later be given an option to leave or legally work here.
TWITTER.COM / MKINI