Despite intense criticism, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin says his ministry will continue cracking down on migrants during the ongoing total lockdown.
He dismissed the need for a new amnesty plan, saying those arrested for not having proper documentation would be allowed to participate in the ongoing legalisation programme.
Hamzah also reportedly “warned” the United Nations refugee agency – UNHCR – against issuing its status verification cards to too many refugees, citing public sentiment and “social ills” as apparent factors.
The Star today published an interview with Hamzah in which he said the migrant raids would continue.
“If they are being victimised by Malaysians (as alleged), we need to correct the situation. How can we correct it if we cannot find these people?
“Let me just do my work, we detain them, separate them one by one and correct the situation,” he was quoted as saying.
The minister had come under fire for once again cracking down on migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A group of bipartisan MPs campaigning for detention reform warned the raids would spark infection clusters in prisons and be “counterproductive” to government efforts to combat the current pandemic.
Opposition elected representatives were concerned that the raids would deter migrants from coming forward for vaccinations, thus jeopardising the nation’s herd immunity goal.
The arrests also risk compromising an earlier plan by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for the government to work with NGOs to coax refugees and migrants – documented or otherwise – to get vaccinated.
Khairy had even assured those who came forward to be inoculated would not be arrested.
According to Hamzah, migrants can be vaccinated in detention.
No new amnesty plan
Hamzah told the English-language daily that he saw no need for a new amnesty programme for undocumented migrants.
This was because the ministry already had a “labour recalibration programme” that allowed arrested migrants to choose either to be rehired legally or deported.
“Why would you want to give amnesty to these people when we do not even know their backgrounds? We must always prioritise the interest of the country and our people,” he said.
The labour recalibration programme began last November and allows employers from selected sectors to employ undocumented migrant workers in a legal manner.
The sectors are construction, manufacturing, plantation, agriculture, restaurants, cargo, cleaning services as well as wholesale and retail.
Under this programme, Hamzah said that about 110,000 migrant workers had already applied to remain in Malaysia while another 100,000 had returned to their home countries.
He previously said that the ministry would work with the relevant embassies and high commissions on the initiative.
Unfair to carry refugee burden
The Star also reported Hamzah had “warned” the UNHCR not to “simply issue” the agency’s cards to refugees “without proper vetting”.
According to ministry figures, he said there were 179,383 refugees in Malaysia who had UNHCR cards at present. This was 38,400 more people than in 2013, eight years ago.
He was reportedly worried that these numbers would grow into “millions” in the next decade opining that most Malaysians were against having a large number of refugees in the country.
“I feel that the majority of Malaysians do not agree with the huge number of refugees who made Malaysia their destination of choice as it might lead to various social ills.
“It is unfair for Malaysia to carry the burden of outsiders. We have to find a credible solution as we are a sovereign country with our own laws. We will work with the Foreign Ministry and UNHCR to solve the influx of refugees into the country, ” he said.
The Malaysian government does not officially recognise refugees or asylum seekers and regards them as migrants. Last week, Hamzah defended the Immigration Department’s move to deny UNHCR access to immigration detention centres.
The agency has been barred from entering the depots to identify refugees and asylum seekers since August 2019.
“First, I would like to explain, this is our country. Why do they (UNHCR) want access to our immigration depots? Don’t we know who we arrested?
“The people we arrested are those who had committed offences under the Immigration Act,” Hamzah had said in response to calls to allow UNHCR access to the centres.