Sacrificing our humanity in order to protect ourselves


Sacrificing our humanity in order to protect ourselves
By Zan Azlee

The number of Covid-19 infections has really been giving us Malaysians a rollercoaster ride these last few days. It went up to close to 200 for two days, the highest it has ever been since the movement control order (MCO). Then, it drastically dropped to 15 the day before and then 10 yesterday.

What’s going on? Well, for the two days when it was close to 200, the authorities have clarified that a majority of the infections occurred among illegal migrant detainees in several immigration depots around the country. The authorities also added that Malaysians do need to worry since these infections are contained.

I have to honestly admit that it is a big relief to find out that the big infection clusters are contained and that, I, as a normal Malaysian citizen, won’t be exposed to it. And once the testings in the depots have been done, we get to see that the open infections around the country are at a very low rate.

This begs the question if we are actually doing the right thing when it comes to these migrants. From early on, when news broke out about how the authorities were rounding up these migrants to test them for Covid-19, everybody’s concern was of social distancing and how the lack of it could help the virus spread faster.

The migrants were marched closely together and loaded up in packed lorries to be brought to the depots. These depots are also reported to be in horrid condition and overcrowded, hence a hotbed for the spread of diseases and not just for the coronavirus. And I guess it must be true because the number of cases in the depot spiked.

When questioned during a press conference, Senior Minister for Security, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, mentioned that the migrants are held in very nice and comfortable conditions. Well, okay then. Since you say it that way, may we, the media, pay a visit to the depots to see for ourselves how nice these conditions are?

He also mentioned that those who have been tested positive are being treated in the MAEPS hall in Serdang, which has been dedicated as a makeshift hospital. Okay, that is fine, but the main places where the virus is spreading are not there. It is in the overcrowded immigration depots.

It is also great for us Malaysians to know that we are adequately protected from being exposed to this breakout among the migrants. But by protecting us, are we neglecting the migrants and putting them at a higher risk? I would think so. Where then is our humanity? Are the lives of migrant workers not as important as Malaysians?

Malaysians who were concerned about the handling of the migrants have now been proven right. The lack of proper procedures in detaining and testing them has caused the number of infections to spike. It could have been easily prevented if the right procedures of social distancing were enforced at the beginning.

Malaysia has been praised all around the world on how we have managed the pandemic. We are considered to be a success story when it comes to flattening the curve and curbing the spread of the virus. Many countries are now even looking at us to provide advice and techniques to help their Covid-19 situation.

I can imagine a future when everything is back to normal (or the new normal, whatever) and I would be talking to my grandkids about the time of the Great Pandemic. I would be excited to share how we all did what we had to do and how the authorities and frontliners gallantly took care of us and protected the nation.

But I do not look forward to when my grandkids find out how we treated the migrants in the country during that period. They will find out that we were so selfish and paranoid about protecting ourselves that we threw our humanity out the window and did not protect our fellow human beings at a time when they needed it most.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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