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Malaysia / COVID-19: “Stop crackdown on migrants, journalists and civil society” – UN rights experts

21 May 2020


GENEVA (21 May 2020) – The government of Malaysia must halt an ongoing crackdown on migrants, journalists and civil society in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and strongly oppose xenophobia and hate speech against migrants, UN experts said today.

“I am alarmed by what is happening in Malaysia after the initially positive attitude of the government towards an inclusive response to the pandemic,” said Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

“The current crackdown and hate campaign are severely undermining the effort to fight the pandemic in the country,” he said. “We urge the Malaysian authorities to refrain from raiding locked-down areas to arrest and detain migrants.”

González Morales said that three raids starting from 1 May, as well as the threat of future raids, have spread fear among migrant communities. “In such a situation, migrants might not come forward anymore for testing or access health services even when showing symptoms of the coronavirus,” he said.

The climate of fear is made worse by the marked increase of hate speech against migrants in recent weeks. Human rights defenders have been threatened for supporting migrants, and journalists have been hindered in reporting about the raids. Such threats and hateful comments have also been made by individuals affiliated with the government, political parties and public officials.

The Special Rapporteur’s call was backed by other UN human rights experts*, who said they are also concerned about the detention of more than 350 migrants, including children, older persons and other vulnerable individuals, in overcrowded immigration detention facilities.

“Alternatives to detention should always be considered first,” González Morales said. “This is even more important when facing a pandemic, as physical distancing and other preventive measures may not be available in detention facilities.”

Reports also indicated plans to deport the detained migrants to their countries of origin, and it remains unclear whether the migrants have access to lawyers and can challenge their detention and deportation.

“If migrants are deported without assessing every case individually, the government may effectively put people at risk of torture and other ill-treatment in their countries of origin. This would breach the fundamental non-refoulement principle”, the Special Rapporteur concluded.

The UN experts are following the issue closely and have contacted the relevant authorities.


* The UN experts: Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrantsMr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi, and Mr. Seong-Phil Hong.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Councils independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Malaysia

For more information and media requests, please contact Yiyao Zhang (+41 22 917 85 94/ [email protected]) and Renate Bucher (+41 22 917 94 70 / [email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9445 / [email protected])

Follow news related to the UNs independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.
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