Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a deserted island off the coast of Aceh Province, Indonesia.
This The refugee has been at sea for more than 100 days, Leaving Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety wooden fishing boat, local fishermen spotted it curled up on the uninhabited Idaman Island. They used the island as a rest stop between fishing trips.
By June 5, the day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, including children, had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of the Geutanyoe Foundation, a non-governmental organization that provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, told Al Jazeera: “The refugees were vaccinated with the local government.”
“When we found them, they were in a crisis state on the island, without food, water and electricity, so the local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 cans of water,” he added. “The local feeling is that we need to share our vaccines with refugees to protect them. No one complains about vaccines being provided to refugees.”
Aceh province has been widely praised by humanitarian groups, NGOs and the public for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, but in other parts of Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers are not so lucky.
When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they told him they wanted to go to Malaysia. Some people’s families already live there, while others believe that the country’s policy for refugees is more liberal than that of neighboring countries.
But like most countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention. Although the government has stated that it will vaccinate everyone living in the country, it also applies measures to undocumented immigrants and refugees including Rohingya. Take a tough stand.
“In February, the cabinet decided that for the recovery of the pandemic, all foreigners, including refugees and undocumented immigrants, will be vaccinated for free,” Lilianne Fan, co-founder and international director of the Geutanyoe Foundation based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.
“The COVID-19 Immunization Working Group as the coordinator of the vaccination program and the Minister of Science Carey Jamaluddin have been active advocates of this approach.
“However, the recent statement by the Minister of the Interior that people without valid documents should not be vaccinated, together with the renewed crackdown on undocumented immigrants, contradict the previous position of the government and will only simply Drive more people to hide And slow the recovery of the Malaysian pandemic. “
Malaysia has entered its Second strict lockdown In early June, after the surge in coronavirus cases, hospitals and intensive care units have reached their limits. The Ministry of Health announced 6,440 new cases on Friday.
The government has stated that it will relax the blockade as more people are vaccinated, and Carey has always emphasized that the plan will include everyone Live in the country.
Why did the authorities spray disinfectant on undocumented immigrants during the operation last night?
What is the purpose of this? Wouldn’t it be harmful to their health?
-Norman Goh (@imnormgoh) June 7, 2021
But just like during the first blockade last year, Malaysia once again stepped up its crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Malaysian Interior Minister Hamza Zainuddin announced that PATI-the acronym for undocumented persons in Malay-will be detained and sent to an immigration detention center.
This month, he emphasized that undocumented immigrants must “surrender” before being vaccinated.
In early June, a video from the state news agency Bernama showed that 156 undocumented immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar were sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya near Malaysia International Airport after being detained.
Last week, the Immigration Service shared a post on its Facebook page — a poster with a style similar to an action movie — titled “Rohingya immigrants are not welcome.” After a strong protest, but before being widely shared in the refugee community, it was deleted.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia expressed concern on “recent statements describing immigrants, undocumented or irregular immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers as threats to national security and security and threats to the health of Malaysians” and urged the government to reconsider it. Methods.
“Given the continuous efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity, inculcating fear through the threat of arrest and detention of undocumented foreigners can be counterproductive,” it said, emphasizing that there are clear differences in the situation of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers.
As of the end of May, Rohingya accounted for approximately 57% of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.
According to data from the International Organization for Migration, unofficial estimates indicate that there may be as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
The mixed information on refugee vaccination is not unique to Malaysia.
In a statement issued in early June, the UN refugee agency warned that a shortage of vaccines in the Asia-Pacific region is endangering the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.
“Refugees are still particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded environments, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can lead to increased infection rates and exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andre Ma Xiqi said in the statement.
There are nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the largest and most densely populated refugee camp in the world.According to Mahecic, the number of COVID-19 cases in the camp Dramatic increase In the past two months.
As of May 31, there were more than 1,188 confirmed cases in the refugee population, and more than half of the cases were recorded in May alone.
The refugees in Cox’s Bazar have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Mahecic added that in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, there are not enough vaccines available, causing groups such as migrant workers and asylum seekers to be marginalized.
He said the UNHCR has observed a “worrisome increase” in the number of coronavirus cases among refugees and asylum seekers in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
At least, Indonesia seems to be taking more measures to solve this problem.
According to the International Organization for Migration, other parts of the country have begun to follow the example of Aceh. The organization worked with the local government in early June to vaccinate more than 900 refugees in Pekanbaru, Riau Province, Indonesia.
“The International Organization for Migration commends the Pekanbaru City Government’s response to providing vaccines to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasana Suchoti, Indonesian national media and communications officer at the International Organization for Migration, told Al Jazeera, adding that the city All refugees are now vaccinated at the age of 18.
She said: “Vaccines are one of our most important and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and ensure the safety and health of individuals and entire communities.”
“The virus knows no borders or nationalities; nor should our unity be so.”