In COVID hit Asia, combined messages on refugee vaccinations

Medan, Indonesia – Earlier this month, dozens of Rohingya refugees landed on a abandoned island off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

The refugees had been at sea for greater than 100 days, having left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in a rickety picket fishing boat, and had been noticed huddling on uninhabited Idaman Island by native fishermen who used the island as a relaxation cease between fishing journeys.

By June 5, only a day after their arrival, all 81 refugees, together with youngsters, had been vaccinated towards COVID-19.

“The refugees were vaccinated in conjunction with the local government,” Nasruddin, the humanitarian coordinator of Geutanyoe Foundation, an NGO which supplies training and psychosocial assist to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia, advised Al Jazeera.

“When we found them, they were in a crisis situation on the island with no food, water or electricity, so local residents brought them food and we also brought them 50 tanks of water,” he added. “The feeling on the ground was that we needed to share our vaccines with the refugees in order to protect them as well. No one complained that the vaccines were being given to refugees.”

Aceh Province has been extensively praised by humanitarian teams, NGOs and most people for vaccinating Rohingya refugees, however elsewhere in Southeast Asia, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant staff haven’t been so fortunate.

Hard line

When Nasruddin assessed the 81 refugees on Idaman Island, they advised him that they’d needed to go to Malaysia. Some had members of the family who had been already living there, whereas others had been below the impression that the nation had a extra liberal coverage in the direction of refugees than its neighbours.

Some of the Rohingya refugees who arrived in Aceh earlier this month. They advised NGOs that they’d needed to go to Malaysia as a result of they’d household there or thought it could be extra welcoming to refugees than different international locations in Southeast Asia [Cek Mad/AFP]

But like most international locations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia shouldn’t be a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and whereas the federal government has stated it’ll vaccinate everybody living within the nation, it has additionally taken a tough line on undocumented migrants and refugees, together with Rohingya.

“In February, the cabinet decided that in the interest of pandemic recovery all foreigners would receive vaccination free of charge, including refugees and undocumented migrants,” Lilianne Fan, the co-founder and worldwide director of Geutanyoe Foundation who is predicated in Kuala Lumpur, advised Al Jazeera.

“The COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force and Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as coordinator of the vaccination programme, have been vocal advocates of this approach.

“However, the recent statement of the minister of home affairs that those without valid documents should not be vaccinated, combined with renewed crackdown on undocumented migrants, contradicts the government’s earlier position and will simply drive more people into hiding and slow down Malaysia’s pandemic recovery.”

Malaysia went into its second strict lockdown at first of June after instances of coronavirus surged – stretching hospitals and intensive care items to the restrict. The well being ministry introduced 6,440 new instances on Friday.

The authorities has indicated that it’s going to ease the lockdown as extra persons are vaccinated, and Khairy has persistently careworn that the programme will embody everybody living within the nation.

But because it did throughout final 12 months’s first lockdown, Malaysia has as soon as once more stepped up operations towards undocumented migrants.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin has declared that PATI – the acronym for undocumented individuals within the Malay language – shall be detained and despatched to immigration detention centres.

This month, he careworn that undocumented migrants needed to “surrender” earlier than they’d be vaccinated.

In early June, a video from state information company Bernama confirmed 156 undocumented migrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar being sprayed with disinfectant in Cyberjaya, near Malaysia’s worldwide airport, after they’d been detained.

Last week the immigration division shared a publish on its Facebook web page – styled like a poster for an motion film – with the headline “Ethnic Rohingya migrants are not welcome”. After an outcry, however not earlier than it had been extensively shared amongst refugee communities, it was deleted.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia on Monday expressed concern at “recent statements portraying migrants, undocumented or irregular migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a threat to the safety and security of the country and a risk to the health of Malaysians” and urged the federal government to rethink its approach.

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive in light of ongoing efforts to overcome the pandemic and achieve herd immunity,” it stated, stressing the clear variations within the conditions of migrant staff, and refugees and asylum seekers.

Malaysia closed its borders through the first strict lockdown final 12 months when immigration officers carried out numerous raids on areas below ‘enhanced’ lockdown. Rights teams fear extra raids will deter individuals from coming ahead for the vaccine that’s essential to Malaysia ending the COVID pandemic [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]

Rohingya made up about 57 p.c of the 179,570 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia on the finish of May.

Unofficial estimates recommend the nation might have as many as three million undocumented migrants, in accordance with the International Organization for Migration.

Widespread drawback

The combined messaging on vaccinations for refugees shouldn’t be unique to Malaysia.

In a press release launched in early June, the UN refugee company warned {that a} scarcity of vaccines within the Asia Pacific area was placing the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in danger.

“Refugees remain especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. Overcrowded settings, coupled with limited water and sanitation facilities, can contribute to increased infection rates and an exponential spread of the virus,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic stated within the assertion.

There are almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, making it the one largest and most densely populated cluster of refugee camps on the planet. According to Mahecic, the variety of COVID-19 instances within the camps has elevated dramatically within the final two months.

As of 31 May, there had been greater than 1,188 confirmed instances among the many refugee inhabitants, with greater than half of those instances recorded in May alone.

None of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar has but been vaccinated towards COVID-19.

Mahecic added that, in lots of international locations within the Asia Pacific area, there weren’t sufficient vaccines to go round, resulting in teams similar to migrant staff and asylum seekers being sidelined.

The UNHCR had noticed a “worrying increase” within the variety of coronavirus instances amongst refugees and asylum seekers in international locations together with Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, he stated.

Indonesia, a minimum of, seems to be beginning to do extra to deal with the issue.

The UNHCR says COVID-19 has begun to speed up within the crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, however no Rohingya living there have been vaccinated [File: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

Other elements of the nation have began to comply with Aceh’s lead, in accordance with the IOM, which vaccinated greater than 900 refugees within the Indonesian metropolis of Pekanbaru in Riau Province in early June in collaboration with the native authorities.

“IOM applauds the response of the City Government of Pekanbaru for making vaccines available to the refugee community in the city,” Ariani Hasanah Soejoeti, the nationwide media and communications officer of IOM Indonesia advised Al Jazeera, including that every one refugees within the metropolis over the age of 18 have now obtained vaccines.

“Vaccines are one of our most critical and cost-effective tools to prevent outbreaks and keep individuals and therefore entire communities safe and healthy,” she stated.

“The virus knows no borders or nationality; and neither should our solidarity.”


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