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16 June 2021 – Malaysia

J. Choong, “Malaysian Medical Group Condemns Govt Raid, Treatment of Migrant Workers in Cyberjaya in Fight Against Covid-19,” 9 June 2021,
J. Choong, “Malaysian Medical Group Condemns Govt Raid, Treatment of Migrant Workers in Cyberjaya in Fight Against Covid-19,” 9 June 2021,

Since the onset of the pandemic, Malaysian authorities have argued that crack-downs on undocumented migrants and other non-nationals are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. A recent example is the 24 May-28 June 2021 nationwide lockdown–referred to in Malaysia as a Movement Control Order (MCO)–during which Home Ministry officials have carried out wide-scale raids leading to the arrest of hundreds of undocumented migrants. Officials have said the raids are necessary to ensure that foreigners get vaccinated. Said the Home Minister: “If they are not detained, will they go out to get vaccinated? That is why they are detained.”

This policy appears to directly contradict earlier comments made by Malaysia’s Co-ordinating Minister for Immunisation, in which he reassured non-nationals that they would not face retribution should they come forward for vaccination (see 18 February 2021 update on this platform).

NGOs, lawyers, and health experts have condemned the new wave of raids, arguing that such measures will encourage non-nationals to flee and hide from authorities, complicating efforts to curb the virus. They point, also, to the spike in infections witnessed within detention facilities following raids in May 2020 (for more, see 4 June 2020 update on this platform). As the director of the Malaysian Medicine Association said following a raid in the city of Cyberjaya in which 202 undocumented migrants were rounded up: “The usual practice of ‘raid and detain’ must stop and better ways should be sought to tackle the problem of undocumented migrants. More raids will result in more detention centre clusters as we have repeatedly seen.”

In the wake of these raids, tensions appear to have emerged between the Malaysian government and UNHCR. On 12 June, the Home Ministry said that it had requested that UNHCR supply its list of all refugees in the country for the purpose of vaccinations. According to a news article published on 15 June, the Home Minister alleged that UNHCR had stipulated that such data can only be shared if authorities can provide assurance that refugees will not be arrested–a condition that the minister claimed showed UNHCR to be “not sincere” and which was upsetting his plans to vaccinate non-nationals. However, a spokeswoman for UNHCR denied that such a condition had been set, and that the agency had been working closely with the government since the start of the pandemic. She did, however, confirm that UNHCR advocates for no arrests of refugees and asylum seekers. “We have advocated with the Malaysian government to not arrest and detain refugees and asylum seekers, including those with expired UNHCR documents, especially because refugees have not been able to travel to UNHCR due to the restrictions under the MCO. Others are in the process of registration and do not yet have UNHCR documentation.”

The latest wave of raids appears to be part of a broad Malaysian policy trend towards migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers that views these non-citizens as transmitters of the virus. This trend was reflected in a recent Immigration Department post on Facebook, later deleted, which featured a military image accompanied by a caption which, translated, said: “Ethnic Rohingya migrants, your arrival is unwelcomed.” Commented Amnesty International: “The Malaysian government must explain why, especially in the time of a global pandemic, they have chosen to attack people in need. Refugees and migrants deserve to have their humanity upheld; Malaysians deserve a government that respects the rights and dignity of all.”

On 1 June, UNHCR expressed concern regarding vaccine shortages in the Asia-Pacific region, and a worrying increase in COVID-19 cases amongst refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia–as well as in Nepal, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, and Indonesia.