The Malaysian government has deported more than 20,000 foreign workers since the beginning of the year over violations of immigration laws, while about 15,000 others have been detained for similar violations, Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin told reporters on Thursday.
He said the largest group of deported migrants as of Aug. 10 were from Indonesia – 9,276. Other countries involved include Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, India, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nepal and Cambodia.
Some of those deported had been detained by authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysia found that some countries are reluctant to accept their citizens over fears they are carrying the coronavirus, Zainuddin said.
“I do not understand this because at the moment, our position combating COVID-19 is much better than some of those countries,” Zainuddin said at a news conference following a service awards ceremony at the Immigration Department’s headquarters in Putrajaya.
“But they believe that there is possibility of the returnees bringing back virus strains other than what they have there, and this could be another problem for them.”
Malaysia has taken several measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, including closing borders at the height of the pandemic.
As of Thursday the nation’s COVID-19 infections stood at 9,129, compared with 132,816 in Indonesia and 269,115 in Bangladesh, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. Globally, more 20.7 million infections and more than 750,000 deaths have been recorded.
Zainuddin said officials were working with other nations’ embassies to ensure that all the documentation was in place to deport migrants. He said the process was necessary because officials in other countries wanted to identify those returning properly.
“The procedure to deport an undocumented migrant is not complicated, we can send them back with the agreement of their home country. This is why they want to make sure that those deported are their citizens,” he said.
“It is the same process if our citizens are being deported back to Malaysia from overseas. We too need to be sure that they are Malaysian.”
Zainuddin said the Immigration Department had carried out 4,764 operations to nab undocumented immigrants in the country, resulting in 18,575 detentions as of Aug 10.
In addition, the department arrested 269 employers over immigration violations.
He said the success to deport 20,000 migrants so far had proved that the department should be able to quickly send the rest to their home countries. Last year, the department deported more than 50,000.
“We want to send back as many of them as possible so anyone who wants to be in this country, must follow the procedures in place. Follow the legitimate way,” Zainuddin said.
Alex Ong, coordinator for human rights group Migrant Care, said the government must consider the pandemic while carrying out deportation operations.
“The process of deportation should be done in a coordinated way and in collaboration with the countries of origin. The community needs to have all the facilities to quarantine and the ability to treat patients with COVID-19,” he said, adding that the migrants needed to be fit enough to travel.
“It would not be good if the deportation is for the sake of executing our laws without considering the preparedness of the countries of origin,” he said.
Ong said migrants should not be forced to return to countries that face major coronavirus outbreaks.
“It is akin to forcing a healthy person into a pond full of crocodiles,” he said.
Nisha David in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.