Selangor Journal

Action on Undocumented Migrants Must Be Reasonable and Respectful of Human Rights

The Malaysian Bar is troubled by the ongoing mass arrest of migrants that have been taking place since 1 July 2018 as part of the Government’s crackdown on undocumented migrants.  It has been reported that within the first three days of the nationwide operation called Ops Mega 3.0, the immigration authorities detained over 1,200 undocumented migrants.  Civil society organisations and employers have alleged that documented migrant workers and refugees have also been detained in its swoop.
The Malaysian Bar urges the Government to take cognisance that a significant number of migrant workers are undocumented through no fault of their own.  Many undocumented migrant workers remain so because the Government provided no avenue for them to independently legalise their status.  The process of renewing their work permits, of legalising their work status, and of getting rehired by their employer, had to and could only be done by employers via selected private companies, which were appointed by the Government.
Further, the criteria set in the legalisation programmes were impractically restrictive, excluding a large number of migrant workers.  Migrant workers who do not possess a valid record of entry and/or who left their original employers were not allowed to be legalised under the rehiring programme.  The lack of labour inspection by the authorities left migrant workers, who faced labour rights violations and human rights abuses, unable to seek redress and left them with little option but to “run away” from their employer to seek employment elsewhere.  When the system does not address labour violations that migrant workers face, it is unfair to penalise migrant workers for protecting themselves.
This crackdown instils fear among migrant workers and deters them all, even those with proper documents, from coming out to work.  This has wide ramifications for the productivity of major economic sectors such as agriculture and construction, which predominantly employ migrant workers.  Migrant workers are needed for the economic development of the country.  This crackdown in its present form benefits no one.
Further, the sudden swell of persons detained in the already overcrowded detention centres jeopardises the health of all detainees and the enforcement officials working in these detention centres.
The Malaysian Bar urges the Government to immediately cease the current crackdown on undocumented migrants and embark on a comprehensive legalisation programme.  The Government of Malaysia must fulfil its obligation under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (“ASEAN Consensus”), adopted by ASEAN member states on 14 November 2017, wherein the Government committed to provide a comprehensive amnesty programme for all undocumented migrants.
George Varughese
Malaysian Bar
6 July 2018

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