The swoop is essentially an exercise in hunting down, arresting, detaining and deporting without due process tens of thousands of migrants in Malaysia, observes Tenaganita.
The Malaysian government’s announcement of the crackdown to be launched from 1 September 2013 is essentially an exercise in hunting down, arresting, detaining and deporting without due process tens of thousands of migrants in Malaysia, many of whom are in a trafficked state.
Over 100, 000 refugees who lack any legal protection in Malaysia may also be arrested, deported and detained in the “nation’s biggest ever crackdown”. Crackdowns on migrants have become a disturbing and worrying feature in Malaysia. There seems to be a cycle for such operations, but it is also a reflection of how the Malaysian government has treated migrants and failed to respond to or act on human rights concerns raised continuously by both national and international parties.
The Home Minister’s call for this crackdown on migrants reflects a failure of his leadership. It is shocking that the Minister can deploy 135, 000 personnel to target and violate the rights of migrants, while doing virtually nothing to address the systematic issues in his own Ministry that leads a migrant to become undocumented or prevents them from gaining legal status.
It has also done nothing to provide a clear legal protection framework for over 100, 000 refugees registered by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and tens of thousands of asylum seekers waiting to be registered in Malaysia.
In 2011, the Home Ministry implemented the 6P “amnesty and legalisation programme”, which was meant to be a pathway for undocumented migrants to obtain valid work permits or be repatriated without penalty. Despite being fully aware that agents and outsourcing companies are often the reason why migrants become undocumented in Malaysia, the Home Ministry granted permission to 277 outsourcing companies to carry out the core functions of registration and legalisation.
Tenaganita received hundreds of reports that these government-approved outsourcing companies had created their own “shell companies” and placed work permits under these companies without providing actual employment to the workers. Migrants who paid thousands of ringgit to these agents to obtain their legal documents are now being targeted by the Malaysian government. Why are migrants being punished for failures of the state?
To date, Tenaganita has filed cases involving 55 outsourcing agencies affecting more than 5000 workers with the police, the immigration authorities, the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Human Resources. In spite of hundreds of police reports made against these agents by workers, none has been investigated and none of the agents arrested and charged.
Why is the Home Minister adamant in allegedly protecting these agents and sanctioning fraudulent practices? It is indeed audacious and malicious of Director General of Immigration Alias Ahmad to state that migrants who registered under the 6P but remain undocumented should be deported immediately for it is their failure to “turn up”, when it is his department that has not created avenues for migrants who have been cheated to access justice and redress.
Tenaganita would also like to remind the Home Ministry that there are at least several hundred refugees who were forced by their employers to register under the 6P, but remain undocumented due to their refugee status. What actions will be taken by the state to prevent registered and unregistered refugees from arrest, detention and deportation?
Many of these migrants live in continuous fear and in conditions of human trafficking or forced labour. One worker told Tenaganita, “My four-year-old daughter asked her mother what I looked like. I have not seen her since she was a baby. I cannot return home as the agent holds my passport and I do not know if I have a work permit”.
As migrants who have become undocumented through this system, many move from one job to another as no employer wants to keep an undocumented worker for a long time. “Life is difficult. I have no proper place to stay. I cannot even claim for my unpaid wages. I don’t know what to do. I have paid RM4,000 for my work permit and am still waiting. My passport is with the agent”.
These are the testimonies of migrants who have been cheated in Malaysia, and it reflects the all-too common reality of how Malaysia has driven migrant workers into conditions ripe for exploitation.
If the Home Minister continues with the proposed crackdown, then the government is not only supporting fraud and abuse of migrants, but is in collusion with agents to operate a system of labour trafficking where outsourcing agents can employ workers without permits and make them work under conditions of forced labour.
The traffickers are protected by enforcement agencies who, through these forms of crackdowns, now make sure that this underclass of migrants are arrested and deported without due process.
There is a tacit agreement between employers and the Home Ministry that employers or agents can keep the passports of migrants, despite this being in violation of the Passports Act (1955). The onus of proof, however, lies on the migrant to demonstrate that they are documented. Through this situation, enforcement officers have been able to allegedly extort money from migrants who fear for their lives, while employers continue to exploit migrants whose passports they hold by threatening to report them to enforcement agencies. This reality has been made known countless times in the media and in reports to government.
The government of the day is hell bent on not addressing the root causes of how thousands of workers continue to become undocumented and unprotected. It appears to insist on sustaining an exploitative system for quick profit. It is shameful and completely unacceptable that victims of fraud, abuse and violence are further victimised and punished for crimes they have not committed.
The organisation demands a detailed explanation from the Home Minister on the results of investigations conducted on the complaints made against 55 outsourcing companies. Why haven’t any arrests been made when detailed evidence was provided? How far has cronyism and corruption influenced the decision to not investigate these complaints?
It is pertinent that these questions be asked especially when one of the directors of SNT Sdn Bhd, a company that allegedly violently beats up migrants who asked for their work permit, is Sheikh Radzi, a former Home Minister, while the other directors of SNT are also allegedly Umno political leaders. Tenaganita has also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Suhakam, in December 2012. We are still waiting for a reply.
The organisation is equally concerned over the silence of the source countries who have agreed to bear the costs for repatriation of their citizens. We appeal that the source countries verify the status of migrants whose documents may be held by the agents or employers or who may have been trafficked.
The source country governments are equally responsible and accountable for ensuring safe migration of its citizens. We call upon source countries to not send their citizens to work if the host country cannot ensure protection of rights and does not have policies and laws in place that recognise the dignity and rights of migrant workers.
Tenaganita remains extremely concerned about the safety of refugees and asylum seekers who remain without protection in Malaysia and who continue to be arrested and remain vulnerable to deportation.
We want countries concerned with human rights to question Malaysia’s actions of impunity against migrants and refugees during the Universal Periodic Review. Malaysia needs to be taken to task for it’ continuous attack on the rights and lives of migrants and refugees.
We call upon the global community to respond strongly and for source countries to impose a moratorium on the sending of its citizens as migrant workers to Malaysia.
Tenaganita, 29 August 2013