Subject: SUHAKAM Online Dialogue Sessions from 9 to 23 April 2020

Malaysian authorities declared the nation under Movement Control Order (MCO) from 18 March 2020 under the Akta Pencegahan dan Pengawalan Penyakit Berjangkit 1998 and Akta Polis 1967, which had been extended and tentatively scheduled to end on 14 April. Under this order, all non-essential work, schools, universities and general operations are mandated to shut and everyone must stay at home or shelter in place. All non-urgent international and interstate travel, recreational and social activities are also not allowed. Despite these mitigation measures in place, there have been a slow and steady increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases, especially pronounced in the second wave of the spread of the disease where more clusters of infections are discovered throughout the country.

While action taken by the authorities to stem the pandemic and save lives is much welcomed by the larger community, the MCO has an unfortunate effect upon various disadvantaged and vulnerable communities; disproportionately affecting the needs and rights of the indigenous people, urban poor, refugees and asylum seekers and migrant workers. These communities were already vulnerable such as lack of supportive policies and programmes by the government, even in normal circumstance, which is amplified in the situation that the country is in today.

The restrictions imposed have deprived their access to work, food and nutrition, healthcare, shelter due to their dependency on daily wages, lack of savings and security net to tide them through this period. Most are also not beneficiaries of the special stimulus package announced by the Honourable Prime Minister on 27 March. This is further compounded by the restrictions placed upon the movement and operations of NGOs/CSOs and agencies that usually extend aid and assistance, and now unable or face additional challenges in reaching out to their beneficiaries.

The fact is, even if the MCO end or when the Covid-19 pandemic is successfully controlled, the country’s economy and businesses will take months to recover, which will inadvertently affect the most vulnerable members of the society who have to face a stark reality for even longer.

SUHAKAM conducted a needs assessment of the actual situation amongst these communities, to gather information and data which will guide a more structured and strategic approach to address the issues faced by the vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Given its unique mandate and vast experience in working on issues pertaining to these communities, SUHAKAM is well-placed to play this role, serving as a convener and coordinating body for the identified clusters. NGOs and communities are more open to working with and providing information to SUHAKAM, as they recognise and appreciate SUHAKAM for its neutral stance and pure human rights approach.

Furthermore, it would be wise to have evidence-based data from the ground to which international standards and norms may be applied to. These information may be used to guide decisions on where aid is best used for the immediate future, or to advise Government for more targeted policies in the coming months. Where appropriate, SUHAKAM should fully utilise its media reach and influence, to guide and change public opinion, which may in itself bring about positive changes as to how society perceive and treat these communities.

The objectives of the dialogue session were:

i. To identify the challenges and the needs of the communities during the crisis, including prioritising where the need is highest and impact is widest
ii. To discuss possible ways and means of supporting the communities, ensuring their rights are met and fulfilled in the shortest time possible
iii. To submit findings and recommendations to authorities and other relevant bodies, for the purpose of sourcing for funding, to influence policies or raise awareness, where appropriate

Please find below, summary of the findings obtained from the dialogue sessions, for your info and update

Urban poor/
Urban poor/
refugees in Sabah
People in Sabah and Sarawak
Held online on9 April 202013 April 202016 April 202017 April 202020 April 202020 April 202023 April 2020
English summaryxx/xxxx
Malay summaryxxxxxx/