Stop crackdown on migrant workers

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Migrants are NOT the cause of the crimes in the country but are more often than not the victims, asserts Tenaganita.

Immigration detainees at the Lenggeng Detention Centre, Malaysia, 23 July 2009 - Photo courtesy of Amnesty France Flickr
Immigration detainees at the Lenggeng Detention Centre, Malaysia, 23 July 2009 – Photo courtesy of Amnesty France Flickr

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s assertion that the Malaysian government needs to launch a “massive operation” on undocumented migrants in order to address the increase of “crime, drugs, prostitution and other illegal activities that may cause a threat to the country’s security” is as malicious as it is misleading.

His deputy, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, reported in Parliament on 8 July 2013 that only one per cent of crimes in the country were committed by foreigners.

When 99 per cent of crimes are perpetrated by Malaysians, why is the Home Minister expending the energy and limited resources of the enforcement agencies to hunt down migrants who have come to our country to work for us? Are migrants being used, yet again, as scapegoats by the State?

With 39 gun-related deaths in Malaysia between January and May 2013 alone, and other forms of crime such as trafficking in persons (including children) on the rise, it is unacceptable that the Home Minister attempts to create an illusion of being ‘tough on crime’ by going after the population of people least responsible for crimes in the country.

It is important therefore as Malaysians to ask why the State is choosing to do this. What is preventing the enforcement agencies from taking action against the real perpetrators of crime, drug dealers and human traffickers in Malaysia?

This inhumane attack on migrants is even more despicable since migrants often become undocumented as a result of State policies or State-sanctioned practices. The Immigration Department’s own policy states that only the employer or the agent can obtain a work permit for migrants. Since it is a policy by the Home Minister that leaves migrants without control over whether or not they are documented while in Malaysia, it is the Home Minister who should take responsibility for creating this situation of undocumented migrants.

The Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM) recently stated that it was the complicated processes of different ministries and delays by the Immigration Department that left migrant workers in a state of being undocumented, especially since their passports are held by the departments for long periods of time while being processed, and copies of passports are not recognised by the enforcement officers.

Tenaganita supports this statement by MBAM and reiterates their concern for how this ‘crackdown’ is going to unfairly persecute migrants. Tenaganita is aware that when employers go directly to get their workers’ work permits done, there are unnecessary delays in processing for the permit, a process that however can be (allegedly) expedited with ‘added costs’.

The 6P program, the last major attempt to “grant amnesty and legalisation” to undocumented migrants in Malaysia also turned out to be an absolute fiasco, a tragedy for thousands of migrants, and a profit-making machine for the agents and the Home Ministry.

Almost two years ago, the Home Minister stated that 1.3 million undocumented migrants were registered with the Immigration Department under the 6P. After paying hundreds of ringgit – even more than RM4000 in many cases – to obtain their permits, many undocumented migrants remain undocumented due to fraudulent agents who (allegedly) had been granted approval by the Home Ministry and at the hands of purposefully limp enforcement agencies apparently unwilling to act on these agents.

More than one year ago, Tenaganita filed cases to the Home Ministry and other relevant agencies of several thousand migrants cheated through the 6P by 55 outsourcing agents. But no actions have been taken by the State to address these cases, see that justice is served to the migrants cheated and to hold the agents accountable. It is incumbent on the Home Minister to provide a detailed explanation as to why thousands of migrants remain undocumented, how much money was collected and spent by the State on the 6P exercise and why there remains a lack of transparency on the continued legalisation process till today.

Zahid has stated that this massive crackdown on migrants is needed to address crimes, including sex trafficking. One of the rising and poorly addressed crimes in Malaysia is trafficking of persons. It is ludicrous therefore to think that arresting migrants who are often the victims of these crimes will address the problem, not least of all because migrants are not trafficking themselves. How will arresting and deporting victims stop the trafficking of persons in Malaysia? Is it not the perpetrators who should be targeted by the State?

It is the system of recruitment and employment particularly by outsourcing agents that has led to forced labour and the highest form of trafficking in Malaysia. The US Anti-Trafficking in Persons Report 2013 has placed Malaysia for the fourth time under a watch-list and has explicitly stated that the government has done very little to reduce modern day forms of slavery in labour and in the sex industry.

Tenaganita also expresses grave concern over the security of over 100,000 refugees (including about 30,000 children) who are seen to be ‘undocumented’ in the eyes of the State. In the absence of a clear and comprehensive policy on the recognition of refugee status and rights, refugees and asylum seekers remain at serious risk of arrest, detention and deportation.

Tenaganita is extremely concerned over how the rights of migrants will be protected and respected during this process. Our experience in monitoring the treatment of migrants during arrest, detention and deportation show a disturbing pattern of continuous human rights violations. Migrants have in the past reported facing physical and verbal abuse at the hands of enforcement officers, with migrant women facing the additional risk of sexual violence.

The Home Minister has stated that they are identifying ‘new holding centres’ to be used during the crackdown. It is incumbent on the Home Minister, in the interest of transparency and accountability, to state what the SOPs of all holding and detention used are and to allow access to monitors in order to ensure human rights standards are met.

Tenaganita also echoes the calls made by the Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM) for the release of all children from immigration detention centres, and for an immediate end to the arrest of children. Malaysia, as a signatory to the Child Rights Convention, would be in breach of international law if they continue to detain children.

There is also little opportunity for migrants who are arrested to access justice. Initial findings of Tenaganita’s recent monitoring of 500 cases in 13 courts (Duta Courts Complex, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Sepang and Lenggeng Detention Centre) reveal that in most cases, court processes did not adhere to basic standards of justice and human rights.

Out of 500 cases, in only four cases were migrants represented by a lawyer, while 70 per cent of migrants pleaded guilty, in many instances in the absence of a translator and when they clearly demonstrated being unable to understand the court processes or the charges levied against them.

There were also cases where groups of migrants were charged and sentenced as a group, while in most cases, there was little probing into where or who held their passports. The passport is a key document of evidence that will show who is responsible for the migrant workers’ status in the country; yet neither the prosecutor nor the judge appeared to deem it important to seek passports as evidence that will determine the due process for justice.

Tenaganita therefore calls for a moratorium on the arrest of migrants and calls upon the Home Minister to address the fundamental causes that have led to migrants becoming undocumented or trafficked in Malaysia.

As repeated numerous times, Tenaganita restates its willingness to work with the Malaysian government to address these issues. We also call upon the governments and civil society of sending countries, especially the countries of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines whose nationals are being specifically targeted by the Home Ministry, to place pressure on the Malaysian government to stop violating the rights and dignity of its nationals and to end this scapegoating of migrants in Malaysia.

Migrants are NOT the cause of the crimes in the country but are more often than not the victims. Muhyiddin Yassin as Deputy Prime Minister and head of the cabinet committee on migrant workers must display leadership, transparency and honesty in addressing corruption and the abuse of migrants in Malaysia, and must step up in enacting a long-overdue effective labour policy that treats all workers equally, with respect for rights and dignity.

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najib manaukau
8 Aug 2013 1.12pm

Do we have an immigration or a police department, no country in the world that has a population of few million illegal immigrants, not to mention the hundred of thousands imported muslims – just to ensure the rapscallion Mahathir was to remain in Putrajaya(?).
The DPM os just sounding out that soon very soon the cabinet will grant all the million of illegals amnesty, just you wait and see. He just want a way out … – and just like the rapscallion Mahathir it is one way to stay in Putrajaya !