Hefty quarantine costs obstacle to Sarawakians reuniting with foreign spouses

FOREIGN spouses of Sarawakians are struggling to reunite with their partners in the state due to the high quarantine costs to do so, with some facing mental distress over their prolonged separation that has resulted.

They had to pay as much as RM5,500 for quarantine alone, which led to some depleting their savings and others reconsidering the idea to return to Sarawak owing to financial difficulties, Malay Mail reported.

Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG) told Malay Mail the increase in quarantine charges for non-citizens, including foreign spouses of Malaysians, since September 24 has been a huge blow to them as they must pay an additional RM2,600 per person.

“The double quarantine for Sarawakian spouses comes at time, when families are struggling to cope with the pandemic. While Sarawakians are allowed to transit within 24 hours when travelling from overseas, our spouses are made to disembark and forced into quarantine in the peninsula for 14 days and on top of that, they are further told that they have to consecutively quarantine for another about three days in Sarawak, until the swab test results are disclosed adding up to a cost of RM5,500 and 17 days of quarantine.

“The requirements provided by Immigration Malaysia to enter Malaysia are to apply for immigration approval online, using the My Travel Pass, or email Immigration Malaysia, the letter of undertaking of mandatory 14 days quarantine at quarantine station and travel notice from the embassy. Never did it mention anything on additional 14 days quarantine requirements and payment,” FSSG co-founder and lead coordinator Bina Ramanand told Malay Mail.

Bina said the Covid-19 pandemic has already exacerbated the challenges faced by Malaysians in transnational marriages as well as their non-citizen spouses and children, with a disproportionate impact on women and children.

“FSSG also appeals to the government to grant permission to spouses to enter the country in the best interest of the family, so that women and children are not disproportionately affected. Wives separated from their husbands and children from their parents, they have been pleading for eight months to re-unite, do they have to endure more? Do consider the consequences of the long-term separation of families, some of whom are experiencing severe mental and physical health impacts with possible irreversible trauma.

“We do fully acknowledge that the concerns of public health have resulted in the decision to have quarantine but the high cost is unaffordable. Many of these families are experiencing financial crises, having lost their jobs and are unable to afford the double quarantine charges,” she lamented, adding that the increased air travel cost is another burden on these families.

Gwen’s (not her real name) husband entered the country and secured a flight ticket to Sarawak within 24 hours. However, he was not allowed to transit and fly to Miri the next day.

“He was immediately taken to a quarantine centre in Kuala Lumpur, and I was informed that he has to quarantine in Sarawak as well.

“We are devastated as it almost depleted all our savings and we have a newborn baby, whom my husband was yet to see,” she told Malay Mail.

Gwen said her husband was only released from quarantine on Monday, and claimed they have spent more than RM11,000 for both the flights and quarantine cost.

“He is a freelance engineer involved in the oil and gas industry and his job is already affected with many projects being cancelled or delayed. This is too burdensome for us,” she said.

Gwen said her husband spent over RM5,000 for his two-week quarantine in Kuala Lumpur, and about RM700 for his three-days quarantine in Sarawak, upon returning.

She said that he had to transit in Kuching before being able to take another flight to Miri.

“Lately the flights to Sarawak have become very costly and there are not many flights coming in. It’s very hard on us to be spending so much just because of his non-citizen status,” she lamented.

Rita (not her real name) lives with her husband in Kuching, Sarawak. They had gone to her home country, the Philippines, for the Chinese New Year holidays earlier this year, after which the movement control order (MCO) was enforced.

Her husband returned back to Sarawak but she had not been able to get an approval to enter Malaysia and she was denied entry.

She finally received approval on October 29 and arrived in Kuala Lumpur on November 14. She is undergoing her mandatory two-week quarantine.

“But I am a housewife and my husband is a small entrepreneur and we certainly cannot afford to pay for double quarantine. I was waiting to return home to Kuching, but I planned to only book my flight after I know for sure, that I have to only serve one quarantine phase,” she said

Unable to bear the prolonged separation yet unable to afford the quarantine cost, Rita’s husband then took a personal loan to pay for her quarantine so she could safely return home.

“He sent me RM5,000 for the quarantine cost and then there was money for my flight ticket and for my expenses. About RM10,000 thereabout in total.

“It is very crushing that I had to wait further because of expenses, as I simply cannot afford the quarantine cost for foreigners like me,” she said when contacted.

Rita is hoping that Putrajaya would enforce a fairer quarantine procedure and review the charges imposed on those like her who were struggling to afford it.

“I have so many friends in the Philippines, but because of the quarantine cost they too cannot afford to return. Two of them got approvals already, but like me before, they too are hoping that the Malaysian government would lower the quarantine cost before they can return,” she added.

National news agency Bernama last week reported the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) as saying foreigners who wish to enter the country, have signed the Letter of Undertaking (LoU), and received their Travel Note, should abide by the guidelines set by Putrajaya, which include paying the quarantine charges at the International Entry Points.

Nadma said the government had issued the directive as many foreign Person Under Surveillance (PUS) at the quarantine stations failed to settle their payments.

The report said that this included administrative and management charges, until the end of their quarantine period.

Bernama reported Nadma saying that non-Malaysians, including dependents of Malaysians, will be charged RM150 per day based on quarantine duration at hotels as stipulated by the Ministry of Health, as well as administration and management charges of RM2,600.

In total, they have to pay RM5,070, including RM250 for the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test upon arrival and RM120 for the Antigen Rapid Test Kit on the 13th day. – Malay Mail.