Malaysian authorities detained large numbers of migrants Friday in a series of raids, according to media reports, that a rights group says could trigger a ‘massive’ disease outbreak.
The Southeast Asian nation has imposed stringent nationwide restrictions on movement as its government seeks to contain the spread of the virus, which has infected over 6,000 people and killed more than a hundred.
A few places with high infection concentrations are under total lockdown, with thousands of people confined to their homes and areas sealed off to non-residents.
Local news portal Malaysiakini reported that hundreds of enforcement agents entered several buildings in the capital that were under stringent restrictions, leading people believed to be undocumented migrants into waiting trucks.
Neither the immigration department or police could be reached for comment.
State news agency Bernama reported Wednesday that migrants found in areas under total lockdown would be sent to detention centres, or even to temporary prisons if the former couldn’t take them.
Deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, warned the mass detainment of migrant workers might cause the virus to spread further.
“The Malaysian government seems foolishly intent on repeating the mistakes of Singapore by concentrating migrants together in a way that will ensure a massive spread of Covid-19,” he said.
Reports of the raids spread fear among migrants, deterring them “from coming forward to be tested for Covid-19 and to seek further treatment,” said the head of rights group Tenaganita Glorene Das.
Malaysia has about two million migrant workers from various countries around Asia, with millions more said to be working without valid documents.
They arrive from across Asia, seeking employment in difficult jobs that often require hard manual labour.
© Agence France-Presse