Malaysia / COVID-19: “Stop crackdown on migrants, journalists and civil society” – UN rights experts

GENEVA (21 May 2020) – The government of Malaysia must halt an ongoing crackdown on migrants, journalists and civil society in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and strongly oppose xenophobia and hate speech against migrants, UN experts said today.

“I am alarmed by what is happening in Malaysia after the initially positive attitude of the government towards an inclusive response to the pandemic,” said Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

“The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” he said. “We urge the Malaysian authorities to refrain from raiding locked-down areas to arrest and detain migrants.”

González Morales said that three raids starting from 1 May, as well as the threat of future raids, have spread fear among migrant communities. “In such a situation, migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus,” he said.

The climate of fear is made worse by the marked increase of hate speech against migrants in recent weeks. Human rights defenders have been threatened for supporting migrants, and journalists have been hindered in reporting about the raids. Such threats and hateful comments have also been made by individuals affiliated with the government, political parties and public officials.

The Special Rapporteur’s call was backed by other UN human rights experts*, who said they are also concerned about the detention of more than 350 migrants, including children, older persons and other vulnerable individuals, in overcrowded immigration detention facilities.

“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.”

Reports also indicated plans to deport the detained migrants to their countries of origin, and it remains unclear whether the migrants have access to lawyers and can challenge their detention and deportation.

“If migrants are deported without assessing every case individually, the government may effectively put people at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in their countries of origin. This would breach the fundamental non-refoulement principle”, the Special Rapporteur concluded.

The UN experts are following the issue closely and have contacted the relevant authorities.