Stateless most vulnerable group under MCO measures, says Suhakam Sarawak

Dr Madeline Berma

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, May 26: The livelihood of the indigenous people without citizenship status in Sarawak are the most affected and need greatest assistance during Movement Control Order (MCO), said Sarawak Suhakam Commissioner Dr Madeline Berma.

She added that the reason for their hardship was that some of them, due to their status, have been excluded from relief assistance.

She said that this issue was among the topics discussed during the recent Suhakam Sarawak virtual dialogue which was held on April 24, 2020.

Madeline said that the dialogue was attended by NGOs, community leaders, academicians and representatives from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

“The objectives of the virtual dialogue were to discuss issues and challenges faced by the communities, particularly the indigenous people (IP) in Sarawak and Sabah during the Movement Control Order (MCO); to discuss the role of NGOs and civil societies during MCO; and to provide recommendations to mitigate the impact of the MCO on the communities,” she said in a statement issued here today.

On related issues, Madeline described how the MCO has disrupted the livelihoods of all Sarawakians, albeit unevenly.

“The MCO has different impact on the communities, depending on their location (cities, urban, rural, and interior).

“In cities and urban areas, the issues were related to loss of jobs, reduced income, retrenchment and job-uncertainty. While in rural and interior areas, the problems were related to loss of cash income, difficulties in accessing Bantuan Prihatin Nasional, Sayangku Sarawak Aid Packages due to MCO requirements.

“Also, there was delay in relief assistance,” she said, adding that there was unequal access to government support due to an outdated database of the B40 and the needy.

Madeline also highlighted that there were concerns that the MCO would be prolonged, and the financial support could not sustain their livelihood.

“And due to the fear of Covid-19, many rural and indigenous communities were increasingly concerned about the spread of coronavirus, questioning whether Sarawak’s rural healthcare could adequately respond to the spread of the virus,” she said.

Additionally, she noted that even though the government has launched a prevention campaign about MCO, washing hands and social distancing in indigenous languages on local radio, it was not enough.

“Sarawak is home to more than 40 ethnic groups, as such the minorities such as the Penan, Punan Bah, Seping, Ukit still lack daily information in their local dialects about the pandemic,” she said.

The dialogue also noted that the support for NGOs were interrupted as inter-district travels were restricted by the government and community meetings were strictly prohibited without government consent.

“Donations dried up and NGOs were struggling to stay afloat financially,” she revealed.

Madeline also highlighted that the school closures and e-learning could not be implemented smoothly in Sarawak due to poor internet connectivity and limited availability of teaching and learning devices to support e-learning facilities particularly in rural and interiors areas.

“Some of the MCO guidelines (restrictions) have made it difficult for those in the rural areas. For example, the inter-district and 10km travel restrictions have made it difficult for communities living in the interior to seek medical treatment, buy necessities and access banking facilities,” she added.—DayakDaily

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