Press Release

Use Alternatives to Detention in the Fight Against COVID-19

02 May 2020

  • The UN welcomes the statement by the Ministry of Health late yesterday, that all foreigners, documented or otherwise will receive the same medical treatment as any other patient.

This is in line with the Government of Malaysia’s positive announcement in March that screening and treatment for all foreigners, regardless of their immigration status, will be provided free of charge during the Movement Control Order (MCO). It took time to build the confidence of the part of the population who are undocumented to come forward. The Government’s public statements and reassurance were instrumental.

Inclusive and non-discriminatory policies are essential to strengthen the response and recovery from Covid-19. Every person, especially the most vulnerable – including migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and the stateless should have access to health services and assistance without fear of negative repercussions.  

Yesterday, reports emerged of large-scale arrests of undocumented migrants taking place in various Enhanced Movement Control Order locations. It is of grave concern that the arrests include people in situations of enhanced vulnerability, such as families with very young children.

The fear of arrest and detention may push these vulnerable population groups further into hiding and prevent them from seeking treatment, with negative consequences for their own health and creating further risks to the spreading of COVID-19 to others.

As reiterated by the UN Secretary General`s appeal ‘the world is only as strong as its weakest link’; and what applies to countries also applies to communities within countries.

In line with Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and with the “Leaving no one behind” commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, all States parties must ensure that the welfare of the most vulnerable, including migrant communities, are indeed not left behind in this fight against the virus.

This means to implement as a matter of priority non-custodial and community-based alternatives to detention, and where relevant to avoid immigration detention all together. Overcrowded conditions in immigration detention centres carry a high risk of increasing Covid-19 infection among both detainees and staff. It is especially important to prioritise the release of all children and their caregivers from immigration detention.

Covid-19 does not discriminate. Equally we should not discriminate in our fight to end Covid-19. We all must ensure that nobody is left behind.

UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations Resident Coordinator Office

Goals we are supporting through this initiative