YANGON—The Malaysian government wants to deport more than 3,000 people currently held in its immigration detention centers to Myanmar after hundreds of detainees tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Myanmar Embassy official in Malaysia.
U Ko Ko Lwin, chief of chancery at the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Malaysia had informed the embassy of its wish to deport the detainees, and offered to provide charter flights to transport them.
In Malaysia, undocumented foreigners apprehended by authorities are typically jailed for three to six months under the country’s immigration laws for staying and working in the country illegally. After serving their prison terms, they are held at immigration detention centers until their identities and citizenship can be confirmed by their respective embassies.
Malaysian Health Ministry Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah told the media on Thursday that the ministry had confirmed 277 new COVID-19 cases on that day, of whom 270 were foreign detainees held at immigration detention centers.
That followed the discovery on May 21 that 35 foreign detainees at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Center were COVID-19-positive, of whom 17 were found to be Myanmar nationals.
Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has offered to return more than 3,000 people it describes as Myanmar nationals currently detained in 11 immigration detention centers across the country, according to the embassy official.
“We have to process them to determine whether they are in fact Myanmar nationals,” U Ko Ko Lwin said.
On a previous occasion, Myanmar authorities found that half of the 200 detainees at a Malaysian immigration detention center who registered as Myanmar nationals were not from the country, he said.
He added that embassy officials are planning to visit the 11 immigration detention centers across Malaysia to conduct citizenship screening as soon as the Malaysian government eases COVID-19 restrictions on interstate travel.
The identification process has been further hampered by reports of COVID-19 transmissions at the camps.
According to U Ko Ko Lwin, detainees at the immigration detention centers who are confirmed as Myanmar nationals will be brought home.
On May 11, 391 Myanmar nationals who had been held at Malaysian immigration detention centers after being released from prison were deported to Myanmar on two chartered flights sponsored by the Malaysian government.
Of the 391, four deported Myanmar nationals tested positive for COVID-19.
Since May 8, Myanmar has brought home 591 Myanmar nationals including 391 detainees, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
U San Win, a Myanmar migrant activist and chairman of the Kuala Lumpur-based Kathpone Free Funeral Service Society, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the Myanmar government should assist undocumented Myanmar workers in Malaysia stranded by the COVID-19 lockdown amid Malaysia’s ongoing crackdown on undocumented foreign workers.
Many undocumented Myanmar migrants, including some pregnant women and people with non-COVID-19 health problems, are struggling to survive after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 crisis, U San Win said.
Myanmar Embassy officials said that about 400 Myanmar nationals in Malaysia have registered to return home on repatriation flights being organized by the Myanmar government.
As of Monday, Myanmar has reported 243 COVID-19 cases including six deaths and 156 recoveries.