Malaysia: Discussing COVID-19 response in maritime security workshop
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, it posed unprecedented challenges for countries, compelling governments to take stringent measures that restricted the movement of people across borders, including maritime entry points.
While the issue of maritime security and the national COVID-19 response plan has become polarized with diverging views, it raises the need for all parties to discuss their respective concerns regarding public health and crucial humanitarian needs and find tangible solutions that can be applied on ground.
Creating a platform for such a discussion, MASO 2020 workshop was organized at the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM) by the Centre for Military & International Humanitarian Law (COMIHL), with the support of the ICRC. Government officers responsible for maritime security operations participated in the workshop that was held from 25 to 27 August.
The workshop aimed at raising awareness on the appropriate steps to address humanitarian concerns while protecting state borders during the pandemic and understanding the provision of assistance to all people in need, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion.
Topics discussed ranged from understanding the state's powers in protecting citizens during the pandemic to its obligations under national and international law and avenues for inter-agency cooperation. On the third day, a panel discussion entitled, "Safety of life at sea: When border security meets humanitarian needs", featuring speakers from the National Security Council, Ministry of Health, UNHCR and the ICRC, was live-streamed for online participants too.
"The movement of refugee populations and unauthorized arrival of asylum seekers are not merely matters of humanitarian concern or national security. They expose the complexity and contradiction of modern nation-state and demonstrate the competing political, economic and humanitarian values associated with the management of international migration," said Professor Emeritus Dato' Dr Tengku Mohd bin Tengku Sembok, NDUM deputy vice-chancellor, representing NDUM vice-chancellor Lt Gen. Datuk Haji Abdul Halim bin Haji Jalal, at the opening of the panel discussion.
During the sessions, government authorities explained Malaysia's maritime security and immigration policy on detention and deportation during the pandemic as well as the challenges faced by their enforcement officers in the line of duty. Humanitarian actors meanwhile provided their views on the issue and outlined the state's obligation to international humanitarian and human rights laws regarding migration.
"Often these issues are played out in the public and can lead to misunderstanding. This can be counterproductive, especially when we are facing a pandemic that requires cooperation and understanding from all sides. MASO 2020 offered us a platform to discuss this," said Biljana Milosevic, the head of the ICRC's Kuala Lumpur regional delegation.
Established on 24 August 2017, COMIHL is a collaborative effort between the NDUM and the ICRC. Located within the NDUM campus, the centre is set up to promote military and humanitarian law among the Malaysian Armed Forces and the region's wider military and legal communities.