Coronavirus: Hundreds of foreign workers detained in major KL raid

KUALA LUMPUR • The Malaysian authorities yesterday detained hundreds of foreign workers in a major raid in areas around the Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market, which has been under total lockdown due to a high coronavirus infection rate, local media reported.

This is the second major raid on a foreign worker enclave by the Malaysian authorities amid the movement control order (MCO).

The first raid around the Jalan Masjid India area earlier this month raised complaints from labour activists that arresting the foreign nationals will scare many others into hiding, when they should be encouraged to come forward to be tested for the coronavirus without fear of being detained and deported.

On the flip side, there has been strong pushback from Malaysians fearful of the virus being carried by foreign workers who live in cramped, rented housing.

Malaysia has some 2.2 million registered foreign workers and an estimated three million more undocumented labourers.

Members of the media who were present at the raid were barred from going near the wholesale wet market - Malaysia's biggest with its vast array of supplies from seafood to vegetables. They were stopped from taking pictures and videos of the operation, New Straits Times (NST) reported on its website.

The areas around the market is under "enhanced MCO" - or total lockdown - with barbed wire and armed soldiers, due to the high infection rate.

Locking down an area allows mass testing to be conducted by the Health Ministry and for the area to be disinfected, with food and essentials brought in daily by the welfare department. The lockdown also prevented foreign migrants from escaping.

The surprise raid started after 6am with immigration department officers and other personnel surrounding the market and rounding up nationals from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Nepal, NST said.

A helicopter hovered above the market during the raid.

"This was an immigration department operation. The police and a number of other agencies provided security assistance," Kuala Lumpur police chief Mazlan Lazim told journalists in a WhatsApp message, as quoted by Malaysiakini news site.

 
 
 

Most of those detained yesterday were believed to have worked in the sprawling market and the surrounding shops. At least three trucks were seen leaving the area around 10.30am under police escort, The Star reported.

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri, who is also the senior minister overseeing the MCO, had previously defended raids on foreign worker enclaves, saying the workers would be placed at immigration depots.

The enhanced MCO on the KL Wholesale Market is scheduled to end tomorrow.

Last Sunday, another area with many foreign workers was placed on enhanced MCO - the big Jalan Othman Market in Old Petaling Jaya town.

Malaysia yesterday reported 70 new Covid-19 cases to raise the cumulative total to 6,726. There was one new death caused by the virus to bring the total to 109.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2020, with the headline 'Hundreds of foreign workers detained in major KL raid'. Print Edition | Subscribe