An immigration round-up took place in a small suburban village near the harbour on the Penang mainland on the eve of a Muslim holiday. It was the 13th of October 2015, after 11.00pm when most families were settling down for the night. Immigration vans loaded with enforcement and RELA personnel arrived and surrounded a block of low-cost flats and were later joined by a convoy of lorries.
The Immigration enforcement accompanied by RELA went house to house, hunting out ‘undocumented migrants’. Such sweeps are not unusual, it seems to have become ‘standard practice’ by order of the immigration authorities and the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is cold, impersonal and official. Persons arrested include whole families even very young children, old and sick people, regardless of their condition. Any medication found on the person is confiscated, as well as cellphones and any thing that can be taken from any person arrested.
The arrests made was on the basis that these people are undocumented migrants, not because they had done anything to hurt anyone or committed any offence to endanger the public. Just that they were undocumented and vulnerable. Even children and infants are taken in like criminals. Why? What did the children in their innocence do to deserve being locked up and put behind bars? Why should ordinary fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grand fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts etc be locked away in detention camps, simply for being found in this place without any official documents or identification? How can such inhumane practice become acceptable in the public psyche?
The irony of it is, most of those rounded up like sheep were Muslims who would have celebrated “Maal Hijrah” the next day, just like the many Muslim immigration enforcers, RELA and others. It would also be a holiday for them, to be with their children, relatives and friends. Instead, they were denied that celebration and treated like criminals for no clear reason. This wasn’t the only mean and malicious irony of the situation.
A bystander noted that, the immigration enforcers knocked on doors with the usual Muslim greeting of “Peace be with you” before cutting locks or breaking down doors. They brought fear, grief and uncertainty into each home they visited. The greeting seems meaningless and hypocritical. Any believer of any religion that preaches compassion, and sympathy for the poor should find this a wicked contradiction, used as a ruse and deception of poor migrants, among whom are asylum seekers and refugees fleeing persecution, violence and war.
The children, women and men, were loaded on the lorries like cattle to be penned. Nobody from any official body, employer, agent, or non-government organization would be able to ask or speak to any Immigration official the next day, it being a public holiday. This is a punishment unjustly meted out without even a fair hearing; to what purpose? In this day and age, the requirements of justice are so blatantly ignore. Punishment comes before trial and after trial more punishment is meted out.
For all the official political rhetoric of innocence until proof of guilt, this is the reality – one is guilty before being proven innocent,which may not happen at all.
If one is an undocumented migrant, asylum seeker or refugee, one is likely to be deemed guilty without need to ascertain one’s innocence. Even the truly innocence are thrown into this pit – the children, minors and infants.
Should we remain silent bystanders and onlookers of this inhumanity practiced by the organs of officialdom, or allow common humanity and conscience to diminish apathy, insensitivity, deliberate ignorance, and indifference?
Will this never happen to anyone we know?