NGO in Malaysia Helps Vaccinate Undocumented Migrants Who Fear Arrest

Muzliza Mustafa and Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-10-01
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NGO in Malaysia Helps Vaccinate Undocumented Migrants Who Fear Arrest A Malaysian Red Crescent Society officer prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to an undocumented migrant during an inoculation drive in Selangor, Sept. 26, 2021
Hadi Azmi/BenarNews

Nisa, a pregnant, undocumented Indonesian woman living in Malaysia, was afraid to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because she feared being arrested for not renewing her visa if she went to a government clinic.

The country’s health minister sought to assure undocumented migrants that they wouldn’t be taken into custody. But his cabinet colleague, the home minister, noted otherwise – health care workers must notify authorities if they came in contact with such migrants, according to a 2001 policy, he said.

So in September, when the rights NGO Red Crescent Society decided to start a vaccination drive for undocumented people and refugees, assuring them they would be safe, Nisa decided to put aside her fears.

“I was afraid if I were to go to government clinic or walk into a vaccination center as advised by some, I would be arrested,” Nisa, who is in her mid-20s, told BenarNews.

She said also was concerned about her unborn child.

“I worried something bad could happen to the baby, but in my neighborhood many people have been infected with COVID-19 and some have died,” Nisa said.

“I have received my first dose [now]. My husband got his second dose previously and I am happy that we are vaccinated.”

Because of Red Crescent’s drive, more than 6,000 undocumented migrants have received jabs  since September. The inoculation drive is supported by the Malaysian government and embassy officials from neighboring countries, said Malaysia Red Crescent Society Director General Hakim Hamzah.

Selangor state Assemblywoman Jamaliah Jamaluddin said that during previous drives she organized, she realized it was important to make the migrants feel safe.

“They were afraid that they would be arrested and they were unsure if it is safe for them to come out to get vaccinated as they were undocumented,” Jamaliah told BenarNews.

Around 1.7 million documented foreign workers live in Malaysia, in addition to between 2 million and 4 million undocumented laborers, according to the International Organization for Migration.

When the pandemic began, thousands of these migrants as well as refugees were rounded up during lockdowns, and many were sent to immigration detention centers which later became COVID-19 hotspots.

Those who managed to avoid being arrested went into hiding, but that also meant they lost their means of livelihood. Now, with around 86 percent of Malaysia’s adult population vaccinated, more employers are requiring those who work to be inoculated.

Ari, an Indonesian who has overstayed his visa, is well aware of the importance of getting vaccinated.

“I need the vaccine to work or else I don’t feel safe and others don’t feel safe,” he told BenarNews.

He is now vaccinated through Red Crescent’s program.

“I can work and I am glad that there is such program to help the undocumented like me,” he said.

Since early September, the Red Crescent has vaccinated Indonesians, Somalis, Rohingya, Bangladeshis, Myanmar refugees (Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Zomi, Falam, Shan, Kachin), Nepalis and Vietnamese.

Cambodia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Cheuy Vitchet, welcomed Red Crescent’s program.

“This is the first time the embassy has cooperated with Red Crescent – 105 were registered during the first day of the vaccination. They were undocumented,” he told BenarNews.

Cambodian community representative in Malaysia Abdul Rahman Mohd Noor was also happy about this inoculation drive.

“I helped the embassy to collect names and they arranged everything else,” he said.

Malaysia, home to 32.7 million people, recorded 12,735 new COVID-19 infections and 192 deaths on Friday, health officials said, bringing the pandemic totals to 2.2 million infections and more than 26,000 deaths.

Since the government immunization campaign began on Feb. 24, millions of Malaysians received Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines. Officials have set a goal to vaccinate at least 90 percent of adults by the end of the month.

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