Malaysia seeks Rohingya for coronavirus checks after mosque outbreak – sources
Malaysian authorities are trying to track down an estimated 2,000 Rohingya who attended a Muslim religious gathering that led to a spike in coronavirus cases across Southeast Asia, a security source and two other people familiar with the matter said.
More than 100,000 Rohingya live in Malaysia after fleeing from Myanmar, but they are considered illegal immigrants.
Their status would likely make many of them reluctant to identify themselves to get tested for the coronavirus even if they showed symptoms, other sources in the Rohingya community said.
Malaysia's search for the Rohingya highlights the challenge for governments trying to track the virus among communities living without official papers and wary of authorities.
The religious gathering late last month at a mosque on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur was attended by some 16,000 people, including the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, one source said.
As well as the Rohingya and other refugees and undocumented migrants, about 1,500 Muslims from across Asia attended.
More than 670 coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia have been linked to the gathering, including 576 in Malaysia, 61 in Brunei, 22 in Cambodia, five in Singapore, seven in Thailand, and one each in Vietnam and the Philippines.
Malaysia has 900 coronavirus cases in all, the highest in Southeast Asia.
Malaysian authorities have been tracking down the participants but say they have been unable to find about 4,000 of them.
Lilianne Fan, chair of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group, said authorities including the police, the UN refugee agency and NGOs were working to identify those who attended the event or who have been exposed to people who attended.
Although the refugee community has been largely co-operating, some were reluctant to go for tests, fearing arrest, she said.
“One important and urgent step that should be taken is for the government to publicly come out to state that all undocumented migrants and refugees need not fear arrest and detention, and that all positive cases will be given free medical treatment and not be subject to arrest at hospitals,” Fan said.
Police declined to comment and directed queries to the Malaysian National Security Council under the prime minister’s office. It could not be reached for comment.
‘SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION’
The government had asked the police criminal investigation division to look for the missing participants, the security source said.
Malaysia implemented travel curbs and shut down non-essential businesses from Wednesday for two weeks to contain the coronavirus after the spike in cases linked to the mosque gathering. One person who attended the gathering died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, this week.
Participants spent most of their time crowded in the mosque for the four-day event, but some went to restaurants, malls and Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas twin towers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia said it heard that refugees and asylum seekers were at the gathering and it was working with the Ministry of Health to ensure that all refugee and asylum-seeking communities were included in government response measures.
The Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for comment.
When I went for testing, they didn’t ask for (my) passport or work permit or any documentsSalman
A 39-year-old Rohingya father of four, who lives in the Malaysian state of Penang, said he spent days at the mosque event with nearly two dozen Rohingya friends. He said none of them was showing symptoms and he went to a hospital but no test was done.
“Everything’s fine, no fever, nothing,” the construction worker said.
Salman, a Bangladeshi construction worker who lives near the mosque, said he and many other Bangladeshis went to the gathering. His coronavirus test was negative but the hospital calls him daily to check if he has symptoms, Salman said.
“When I went for testing, they didn’t ask for (my) passport or work permit or any documents. They just asked for my name, age and address,” said Salman, who declined to give his full name. — Reuters