Locking up undocumented migrants in prison will worsen COVID

The Home Minister, Hamzah Zainudin recently announced that the Immigration Department will conduct operations to detain undocumented migrants during the 2-week lockdown, adding that the Prisons Department is ready to allocate additional detention centres for those who might get arrested1.

According to SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s prisons are extremely overcrowded, by over 40%, creating the ideal condition for Covid-19 to spread2. Furthering locking up undocumented migrants as new detainees in prison will increase Covid-19 cases due to further overcrowding.

There is a high probability that the undocumented migrants may introduce Covid-19 into the detention centres. According to a research, prisoners are 5.5 times more likely to get Covid-19 than the general population3.

The Home Minister’s priorities should be on decongesting the prisons, not cramping even more people in them and worsening overcrowded conditions during a pandemic. The Home Ministry has the ability to reduce the prison population by 80% as about 25% of prisoners are detainees awaiting trial and 55% are in prison for drug-related reasons 4 5.

Detention without conviction is a violation of the legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. It is is safe to say a large proportion of those detained are for reasons related to drug use. The Home Minister needs to decriminalise drug usage and treat addicts as medical patients rather than criminals.

The Home Minister should also grant migrants a home return amnesty program to allow the undocumented migrants to come forward without fear of prosecution and detention.

SHARAN RAJ
Central Committee
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

1 https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2021/05/29/immigration-to-go-after-undocumented-migrants-during-lockdown/

2 https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/11/12/suhakam-prisons-overcrowded-by-40pc-maximum-capacity-creating-perfect-storm/1921939

3 https://www.businessinsider.com/covid-prisons-jails-release-inmates-rufus-rochelle-2021-1

4 https://www.prisonstudies.org/country/malaysia

5 https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/03/09/minister-putrajaya-aims-to-reduce-prison-population-not-build-more-jails/1730804

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