Legalising undocumented workers is not ‘stupid’ as suggested by Saravanan

Lawyers for Liberty refers to the recent statement issued by the Human Resources Minister, M Saravanan, that legalising undocumented migrants for the workforce is a “stupid” idea.

This is outrageous and disappointing, to say the least, as the minister had previously given a commitment on behalf of the government to tackle forced labour. The minister’s reaction is simplistic, superficial and ignores the root causes of the entry of undocumented migrants into the country.

The undocumented migrants are largely victims of circumstances beyond their control; they are not deliberate offenders against our immigration laws. Having been duped by deceitful agents or unscrupulous employers, they have become ‘illegal’ as a result.

Their irregular status is an administrative offence that has no victims except themselves. In fact, considering the manner and treatment they suffer in getting into Malaysia, the workers themselves could be considered as trafficked victims.

As such, simply deporting them would be cruel and unjust as it would be placing the fault on those who have been exploited while the agents and employers responsible escape with a slap on the wrist.

The gravity of the deportation of undocumented migrants also must be fully appreciated. Most of them have incurred great financial costs or taken out hefty loans for the opportunity to work here. Thus deporting them may cause grave financial ruin, or even worse, physical violence and even death at the hands of unforgiving loan sharks.

The fact is a large portion of our economic sector is reliant on migrant workers. Deporting them in swathes would create a vacuum in our labour force, which would in turn necessitate us to bring in more migrant workers to replace them, thus creating the cycle of undocumented workers again.

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It would be easier, more humane and more cost-effective to legalise those who are readily available here.

The government must face the fact that the majority of undocumented migrants in our country result from our inadequate labour policies and weak or corrupt enforcement, and embark upon a comprehensive and practical solution to this longstanding problem.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty



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