Coronavirus: Malaysia says foreign workers treated humanely during pandemic

The government looked after the welfare of foreign workers with valid work permits. PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - Malaysia's government said on Wednesday (May 27) that it treats foreign workers humanely, amid criticism of its move to round up undocumented workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the government looked after the welfare of foreign workers with valid work permits, and treated those working illegally humanely.

"Foreigners with valid work permits are protected. For example, those working in the estates are given housing. Those in other sectors get all kinds of benefits from employers.

"We take care of their welfare, there is no issue. We acknowledge that we need them for dangerous, dirty and difficult jobs," he said at the National Security Council's daily press conference on Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

He noted however that the authorities had to take action against foreign workers who had entered the country illegally or were working without valid documents.

"... we have to take action against them. Even then, we do it humanely. When we find that some of them are Covid-19 positive at our depots, we screen all of them -100 per cent - so that they can be saved," he said.

Malaysia has seen over 380 fresh cases of Covid-19 infections at three detention centres for undocumented migrants, after more than 2,000 foreigners were detained following raids in areas under lockdown for the coronavirus.

Labour activists say the centres are often crowded, with dozens of migrants packed in a single cell, which makes social distancing impossible. Detainees can spend months in the centres before they are deported.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri had said on Monday that migrant workers at the centres who have tested positive for Covid-19 will be moved to the 600-bed quarantine facility at Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS), to ensure the virus does not spread among the detainees.

He had said over 4,000 undocumented migrants at the three affected centres would be tested for the virus.

"If you check out MAEPS, it is such a nice place and the government has spent millions of ringgit to set it up (as a Covid-19 hospital)," he said on Wednesday. "So to call the government inhumane is not fair, " he said.

He added that the government was in talks with the workers' home countries to deport those who are in Malaysia illegally and have tested negative for the virus.

"It is not nice to accuse Malaysia of mistreatment. In fact, other countries treat them (undocumented migrants) worse. There is no need for politicians or NGOs to act as heroes for undocumented migrants," he said.

Malaysia reported just 15 new cases of coronavirus as at Wednesday, bringing the tally to 7,619 cases. No new fatalities were reported, keeping the death toll at 115.

There are 1,421 active cases being treated at the country's health facilities currently.

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