A Task To Tackle: Getting Non-Citizens Vaccinated In Malaysia

It has been more than a year since the pandemic has begun. The battle against Covid-19 is far from over. As the number of cases continue to increase at dangerous levels in Malaysia, vaccines一both Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca一are currently and steadily being rolled out, starting with high risk groups such as the elderly and those with chronic illnesses to the rest of the registrants.

Source: Malay Mail

The clear goal here is to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021[1]. In simpler terms, herd immunity an indirect protection strategy, where once a large portion of the population has become immune to disease from taking vaccinations, it will lessen the likelihood of the disease being spread to others, and ultimately, protect the entire community, including those who are not or cannot be vaccinated[2]. The estimation for the nation to achieve herd immunity is said to be around 75% to 90% of all persons living in a country[3][4]. Clearly, this is not an easy feat.

Overcoming A Hurdle: Vaccinating Non-citizens

Malaysia is home to citizens, non-citizens and even the undocumented such as stateless communities, some refugees and assylum seekers. Oftentimes, undocumented communities are forgotten or deliberately left out of the conversation. Yet they live among us, and just like us, they are looking for safe solutions to protect them from the virus. 

Undocumented citizens are especially at a higher risk to contract the virus as a lot of them work in factories that contributed to the rise of Covid-19 cases. Another thing worth pointing out is that their living and housing conditions are less than favourable. In fact, many refugees share living spaces with other families. The communal type of living is not only cost-effective, but it also ensures a stronger, safer, and more secured community. 

That was the idea until the pandemic hit, and now they have no choice but to throw social distancing out of the window. To make matters worse, their houses typically lack basic facilities, which deter them from keeping them clean and hygienic[5]. All of these go against the practices of Covid-19 prevention, which means that they are more likely to cause clusters and spread the virus to more people.

What’s Stopping Them From Getting Vaccinated?

Even before the pandemic happened, non-citizens have always faced difficulties, especially when it comes to acquiring healthcare. Unlike Malaysian citizens, they do not receive the privilege of the healthcare subsidy, and often have to pay a hefty amount to get treatment. For example, Malaysian citizens only need to pay a registration fee of RM1 at any government hospital while refugees are required to pay up to RM100[6][7]. Furthermore, most non-citizens have issues with language barriers, are unable to pay for transportation fees, and are afraid of getting caught by authorities[7]

Source: HR Asia

You may be thinking, What about their identification cards? Don’t they have those?. Although non-citizens are granted the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) cards, it does not necessarily guarantee that they would not be caught or deported. To top it off, the cardholders are provided with basic healthcare by UNHCR and its NGO, and since the process of acquiring the identification cards is overwhelmingly slow due to the influx of incoming migrants, a lot of non-citizens remain unregistered[6]

The aforementioned fear of getting caught by authorities has caused many undocumented migrants to run away from their responsibility of getting vaccinated, even though they are permitted to do so. In fact, earlier this year, the government had provided assurance that everyone, including non-citizens, will receive vaccinations[7]

Source: Malaysiakini

However, the small glimmer of hope for the non-citizens to escape law enforcement in order to be able to receive vaccinations had quickly diminished not long after when Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin announced that the Immigration Department would begin hunting down undocumented migrants[8]

What would it take the home minister to understand that no one is safe until everyone is? – Mahi Ramakrishnan, a filmmaker, and a human rights and social activist[8]

The announcement had understandably stirred up anger and concern from the public, human rights groups and medical personnel. The situation is even trickier when MoH staff are required to report undocumented migrants to the police under the Immigration Act[3][6]. There is a clash between MoH and law enforcements as the former believe that migrants, refugees, and stateless individuals should not be exempted from receiving basic healthcare benefits including the Covid-19 vaccination while law enforcement is with the view that undocumented individuals do not have the right to remain in the country. 

Those are well-founded fears – of people being sent back to countries of origin that have ongoing war and persecution, or of just not being able to economically provide for your family because you’ve been put in detention. – John Quinley, senior human rights specialist for the NGO Fortify Rights[9]

Source: BBC

Raids, detention and lockups have led to many refusing to seek medical treatment, and as a result, it becomes significantly difficult to keep any data regarding them such as their medical records or history as there are none, to begin with. This is why it is crucial that these groups are protected, and not be deported or detained, or else it will only snowball into bigger issues. 

We had already seen how the detainment of migrants in overcrowded detention centres had led to a virus outbreak[9], and considering the spike of Covid-19 cases and deaths, we definitely do not want to cause more clusters due to our inability to protect the migrants. Even netizens are taking to social media to voice their concerns. 

Malaysia will never reach herd immunity if we don’t also take care of migrant workers, people who have built our buildings and roads, people with families in their homeland. #MigranJugaManusia (‘migrants are humans too’). – @annarina on Twitter[10]

No One Is Safe Until Everyone Is

News after news about how Covid-19 has taken many lives. Many people have lost their loved ones. So, the longer we let it persist and plague our country, the worse the impact it will leave on us. Suffice to say, in the matter of life or death, there should not be any more discussion as to who deserves to receive protection. Everyone deserves to be vaccinated, including non-citizens. 

Source: Straits Times

The issue of non-citizens in Malaysia goes well beyond Covid-19 vaccines to encompass health rights, human rights, politics, economics and security[3].

The good news is that in February 2021, the Cabinet promised non-citizens that they will receive their vaccinations free of charge. This promise is for 180,000 asylum seekers and refugees; 40,000 stateless persons and two to four million undocumented migrants. They have also given work that non-citizens will not be arrested when they turn up for the vaccination[3].

The public are now all eyes on this word. 

Herd immunity is a mammoth task and in order to achieve it, non-citizens who have chosen to call Malaysia their home deserve the right to be protected from the deadly virus. 

Explore Our Sources:

  1. ST. (June 4, 2021). Malaysia aims to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 by December, says Health Minister. The Strait Times. Link
  2. “What is herd immunity?”. (February 27, 2021). Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia. Link
  3. Khor, S. K. (March 25, 2021). Stethoscope: Vaccinating non-citizens and building vaccine independence in Malaysia. The Edge Markets. Link
  4. Amar-Singh HSS. (March 18, 2021). Covid-19 Vaccination: Can We Achieve Herd Immunity? — Dr Amar-Singh HSS. Persatuan Pediatrik Malaysia. Link
  5. Wiki Impact Team. (March 9, 2021). Housing realities of asylum seekers in Malaysia. Wiki Impact. Link
  6. Wiki Impact Team. (March 18, 2021). Accessing healthcare services in Malaysia: the plight of refugees. Wiki Impact. Link
  7. Povera, A. (February 16, 2021). PM urges Malaysians, non-citizens to register for Covid-19 vaccination. New Straits Times. Link 
  8. Palansamy, Y. (June 1, 2021). Worker, health advocates foresee bigger disaster as law enforcers start hunt for undocumented migrants in ‘total lockdown’. Malay Mail. Link
  9. Ratcliffe, R. (May 31, 2021). Malaysia struggling to contain sharp rise in Covid cases. The Guardian. Link 
  10. Anna-Rina (@annarina) on Twitter. (June 7, 2021). Link

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