KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities on Monday (May 11) 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 Malaysian authorities amid the movement control order (MCO).
The first raid around the Jalan Masjid India 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 virus 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 labour.
Members of the media who were present were barred from going near the wholesale market - Malaysia's biggest with its vast arrays of seafood to vegetables. They were stopped from taking pictures and videos of the operations, New Straits Times reported on its website.
The areas surrounding the market is under "enhanced MCO" - total lockdown - with unrolled 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. But the lockdown also prevented foreign migrants from escaping should they want to do so.
The surprise raid started after 6am with immigration department officers and its personnel surrounding Malaysia's biggest wholesale wet 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 on Monday were believed to have worked in the sprawling market and 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 they will be placed at immigration depots.
The enhanced MCO on the KL Wholesale Market is scheduled to end on Wednesday (May 13).
On Sunday (May 10), another area with many foreign workers was placed on enhanced MCO - the big Jalan Othman Market in Old Petaling Jaya town.
Meanwhile, 84 rights groups in a joint statement urged Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to address the hate speech against Rohingya refugees following the online campaign against the community which began shortly after the MCO began.
“Your leadership in addressing hate speech and threats directed at the Rohingya is essential to prevent violence, discrimination and other human rights abuses,” the statement said.
“We urge you and your government to speak out in support of the rights of the Rohingya. We ask that you and your government challenge false or discriminatory narratives and highlight your government’s commitment to upholding their human rights.
Once embraced by Malaysian Muslims as fellow Muslims from Myanmar, there are now local calls for the Rohingya to be deported, as foreign nationals have at times been blamed for the pandemic and taking away local jobs amid steep job losses in Malaysia.
The statement was issued by, among others, Amnesty International Malaysia, the European Rohingya Council, Human Rights Watch, and Malaysian groups Suaram and the Islamic Renaissance Front.
Malaysia on Monday 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.