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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Govt's policy hinders vaccine access to marginalised groups - Human Rights Watch

 


While Malaysia has urged the World Bank to be a strong voice for global vaccine equity, the nation's policies are deterring undocumented migrant workers, refugees and stateless people from receiving their fair shot at the Covid-19 vaccines, said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The US-based human rights group said Putrajaya should make a firm commitment to ensure marginalised communities are able to access vaccination.

HRW said the government's raids on undocumented migrants are undermining its repeated international calls for vaccine equity among nations.

"The threat of arrest and possible deportation of undocumented migrants will force an already fearful population further into hiding, leaving them at risk of contracting Covid-19 and spreading it to others.

”If Malaysia wants to be an effective voice for global vaccine equity, it should ensure that all those within its borders can safely access Covid-19 vaccines,” HRW Asia legal advisor Linda Lakhdhir said in a statement today.

On Feb 11, the government said all foreigners residing in Malaysia, including students, refugees, and undocumented migrants, would be eligible for free Covid-19 vaccines.

On Feb 17, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin gave his assurance that the government, in order to achieve herd immunity, would not arrest undocumented migrants who come forward for the vaccination.

However, Putrajaya started to clamp down on undocumented migrant workers. Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin asserted early this month that the government was arresting undocumented migrants to help them get vaccinated and to "protect Malaysians".

HRW pointed out the risk of spreading Covid-19, as evident after the authorities rounded up undocumented migrants in May 2020, leading to a spike in cases at immigration depots.

"Documentation requirements may also be preventing members of some marginalised communities from accessing vaccines," it said.

Only those with proper documents, including MyKad and passport, are eligible to register for vaccinations via the government website or MySejahtera application.

"Malaysia has a large population of stateless people, including many who were born and raised in the country but due to the vagaries of Malaysian citizenship law, have been unable to obtain either a Malaysian identity card or a passport.

"With no passport or Malaysian identity card, these individuals may be unable to register for or obtain vaccines," HRW said.

The group also raised concern that some indigenous people lack formal identification documents as well and may not have access to vaccination.

"While the authorities are engaging in outreach efforts to remote indigenous populations, in some instances they are reported to have turned away those who do not have Malaysian identity cards."

HRW said the authorities should make a concrete commitment that undocumented migrants seeking Covid-19 vaccination will not be reported or arrested, and should work with community groups and NGOs to reassure the population that they can be vaccinated without fear.

"The government also should revoke the 2010 circular requiring healthcare workers to report undocumented individuals who seek medical treatment to police and immigration authorities, and ensure that there is a complete firewall between immigration and healthcare officials.

"They should also translate government public awareness campaigns into the languages commonly spoken by communities at risk," it added.

HRW urged the government to come up with alternative registration procedures for people lacking documents to ensure those who are stateless and others without formal identity documents can get vaccinated.

"The lack of a passport or Malaysian identity card should not block access to getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

“Malaysia should make its rhetoric a reality by ensuring vaccine equity for all of those within its borders. 

"Failure to do so will not only hamper its efforts to control the Covid-19 pandemic, but also undermine the government’s call for vaccine equity among nations," Lakhdhir said. - Mkini

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