PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian authorities conducted a raid against illegal migrants in Petaling Jaya (PJ) Old Town on Wednesday (May 20), an area under total lockdown due to the high coronavirus infection rate.
Government trucks were seen entering the guarded area earlier on Wednesday to take away those detained.
Malaysia is into its 10th week of the movement control order (MCO), with people generally allowed to leave homes to work in the last two weeks, but with large gatherings still banned.
But areas with high infection rates have been placed under "enhanced MCO" or total lockdown.
Parts of PJ Old Town were put under total lockdown from May 10 after the authorities found 26 Covid-19 positive cases there.
Immigration Department director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud, who was at the scene, said that by noon, around 200 people had been detained and sent to immigration depots.
"The estimated number of people detained for now is around 200, made up of Indonesian, Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals.
He said the group brought out from the enhanced MCO areas have been quarantined and checked by the Health Ministry.
"They are confirmed negative from Covid-19. No risk for them to be brought to our depots," he said.
Labour activists have decried the government's move to nab illegal migrants amid the pandemic, fearing that others who are working in Malaysia without documentation may hide from authorities, instead of coming forward voluntarily to be tested.
Similar raids had been carried out at the Kuala Lumpur Wholesale Market, and around the Jalan Masjid India and Pudu areas in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Opposition MP for Petaling Jaya ward Maria Chin Abdullah, was quoted by New Straits Times online news: "It's sad that despite criticism from human rights groups on the Pudu and Masjid India raids, the government continues to use Covid-19 as an excuse to crack down on migrant communities, including young children of foreign workers." She said the raids were based on prejudice and discrimination.
On the flip side, a section of Malaysians have been pushing for foreign workers to be deported, with some accusing the migrants of carrying the virus and taking jobs away from locals amid the economic slump.
There are some 2.2 million documented migrant workers, and another three million who work in the country illegally.
Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that the raids against illegal migrants are part of regular operations to weed out those working in Malaysia without proper documentation.
The Immigration's Datuk Khairul gave his assurance about the welfare of the detained illegal immigrants.
"Their welfare will be taken care of, including medicine and food. Throughout their time in the depot, the process of deportation will proceed, " he said.