Response from Migrant Worker Communities and Migrant Rights’ Civil Society Organizations With Regards To Ongoing Raids on Undocumented Migrants in Malaysia 4 July 2018

Migrant workers in Hong Kong organized a rally in May Day 2018. Photo: Rizal

In response to the ongoing enforcement operations on undocumented migrant workers by the Immigration Department of Malaysia and as per press release (31 May 2018) by the Home Affairs Minister of Malaysia, YB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Haji Mohd Yassin, of the new Pakatan Harapan government, we the migrant community and CSOs concerned about migrants’ rights in Malaysia are very concerned about the future of migrants in the country. The directives in the press statement fail again to address the root causes of the issues and do not provide enough time for proper discussions and analysis for just remedies which need to be holistic, comprehensive and be based on ILO Conventions and fundamental Human Rights principles. These concerns also cover refugees, asylum seekers and stateless communities, who are also at risks of being detained during this new enforcement operations.

 

How Migrants Become Undocumented

Many of the migrants the Malaysian Government has labelled “Illegal” (or in more humane terms “undocumented”) attain that status due to no fault of their own. Some of these reasons include:

Trafficking: Malaysia’s history as a human trafficking hub is well documented by civil society and even reflected in Government data. Recent revelations regarding a large and politically well-connected trafficking syndicate, as well as Malaysia’s downgrade to Tier 2 Watch List of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report further reinforces our fears of the prevalent and possibly even systemic existence of trafficking networks within Malaysia. We must never punish migrants who became victims of trafficking to Malaysia, as their circumstances are beyond their control. Criminalizing victims and survivors is not the way to go; we should instead be going after the syndicates and those responsible.

Deception: Agents have a history of giving false advice and promises regarding the process of getting permits and jobs in Malaysia. Some migrants have low literacy levels, making them susceptible to fraud and deception, and even literate migrant workers become possible victims of fraud and unjust treatment by both recruiters and employers. Recruiters promise work permits and good employment contracts with decent wages and conditions. Upon arrival, however, these workers often find that not only have their contracts, employment sites, and terms and conditions been changed but that they may have also violated Malaysian immigration laws. For most workers, there is little access to justice or right to redress mechanisms in proving the fraud and deception.

Rehiring: The rehiring process is lengthy and non-transparent, and the subcontractors and sub-agents of rehiring face little accountability. It is a privatized process driven by profiteering motifs, fraud and deception. For example, workers are not given receipts of rehiring payments and many agents cheat workers, taking their money but not providing e-cards. There is no adequate redress mechanism that can investigate and track these agents. While we welcome the cancellation of problematic rehiring contractors, we are afraid that workers in the midst of registration may be again victimized by this move.

Renewal: The migrant working visa renewal process is equally riddled with cheating, a lack of transparency and little accountability by agents and employers. Most migrants have little idea of how this opaque process works. Passports are often illegally held by employers and whether their visas are renewed or not is out of the beyond the worker’s control.

Employer bondage and exploitation: The past Malaysian Government’s hiring policy, which now needs to be reviewed by the new government, requires an employer’s consent for workers to change employers. This inflexibility is particularly problematic in cases of exploitation, intimidation and physical violence where workers have no choice but to abscond and become undocumented. This is exacerbated where workers’ passports have been illegally retained. This system, which resembles the widely-criticized kafala system practised in Gulf countries, provides little option to seek redress for workers in this situation, particularly with the overhanging threat of deportation.

Amnesty blacklisting: The 3 + 1 amnesty program, which blacklists workers for five (5) years, further discourages them from using the amnesty system and thus forces them to become undocumented.

Accountability: The complex commercial chains of private outsourcing companies and agents that govern migrant workers’ affairs activities render them largely unaccountable. Companies and agents often deny or neglect their responsibility for their workers, and many migrant workers become undocumented because of the irresponsibility of these companies and agents.

Border enforcement: Documented corruption and inefficiency within border enforcement agencies add to the problems faced by migrant workers, benefitting from the activities of the accountable recruitment industry and providing little relief or assistance when things go wrong.

Recruitment debt: Many migrant workers believe the promises made to them in countries of origin by agents and employers, borrowing huge sums from syndicates and moneylenders to finance the initial migration costs. This debt bondage is exacerbated by the illegitimate substitution of contract terms, arbitrarily driving down wages and conditions and imposing unaccountable wage deductions, making repayment increasingly difficult. Sending people home in such circumstances is putting many workers at risk, and this needs to be clearly addressed.

 

To ensure that all labour migration matters are handled in a way that gives dignity and respect to migrant workers, we demand a holistic solution based on the following recommendations:

  1. An immediate moratorium on raids/enforcement operation “Ops Mega 3.0” to ensure no workers are punished for crimes which are not of their fault. These raids and operations should be suspended while a holistic assessment of all the issues and potential comprehensive solutions are undertaken with all stakeholders with regard to labour migration.
  2. That the Government makes available the Standard Operating Procedure for conducting raids and detaining undocumented migrant workers, so that human rights and civil society organisations can ensure fundamental rights are protected and due process guaranteed.
  3. To decriminalize the “undocumented” status of workers (which is an administrative offence), and recognize that becoming undocumented is primarily an outcome of labour exploitation. This is especially relevant for vulnerable groups like women and child migrant workers, who face additional layers of exploitation which leads to them being undocumented and victims of forced labour and trafficking.
  4. That the Committee for Institutional Reforms facilitates safe dialogue spaces between the Government of Malaysia and migrant communities and other relevant stakeholders and social actors to propose evidence-based solutions. Such solutions must be based on clear verified labour market data (for example from the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis, employer organizations and other sound economic analysis) and base its solutions on fundamental Human Rights and Decent Work principles. The involvement of the International Labour Organisation would be advisable in this respect.
  5. To facilitate the overhaul and expansion of Government-to-Government hiring mechanisms as the primary means by which workers are recruited in Malaysia in a manner that is transparent and accountable as well as evidence- and rights-based.
  6. More time must be given to migrant workers to process and secure their working visa status and make decisions on their working status in Malaysia. Unrealistic deadlines force workers to risk going underground, collaborating with exploitative actors within the labour supply chain, driving criminality and other high-risk activities.
  7. The Government should stop blacklisting migrant workers who use the 3 + 1 Amnesty Program, an action which only discourages its use. The program should be conducted exclusively by the Immigration Department to avoid levying excessive charges on already-struggling workers and discourage profiteering.
  8. The Government must ensure all migrants have access to justice and the right to redress, including when they are caught and detained. This due diligence must be practiced by enforcement agencies and the judiciary to ensure accused migrants have a fair trial and a chance to defend themselves. Migrants must have guaranteed access to legal aid from the National Legal Aid Foundation to achieve these goals.

 

Migrant workers play a huge part in securing economic growth for Malaysia and will still be needed in years to come by various industries. The Government must play a more active role in educating the Malaysian people that migrant workers are not their enemies or the cause of their own financial or employment problems.

Migrants are here because the Malaysian government, employers in formal and informal sectors and agents opened spaces for their work. So how can migrants be ‘illegal’? No person is illegal. We have always been keen to discuss these matters with all appropriate authorities to find the best solutions. This is a good time for the new Government to take stock of what the real situation is and what determine what possible solutions might be, before taking any actions.

Accordingly, migrant communities and CSOs concerned about migrants’ rights request an urgent meeting with the Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Human Resource to discuss and propose comprehensive, rights-based solutions on these and related issues.

Endorsed by

  1. Asosasyon ng mga Makabayang Manggagawang Pilipino Overseas(AMMPO), Philippines/Malaysia
  2. Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), Philippines
  3. SERANTAU, Indonesia/Malaysia
  4. Building and Wood Workers’ International Asia-Pacific
  5. GEFONT Support Group, Nepal/Malaysia
  6. Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC, Nepal/Malaysia
  7. Myanmar Migrants Rights Centre (MMRC), Myanmar/Malaysia
  8. Muglan-Migants Advisor, Nepal/Malaysia
  9. Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia(SBMI), Indonesia
  10. Nepalese People Progresive Forum, Nepal/Malaysia
  11. Tenaganita, Malaysia
  12. Migrant 88
  13. Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign, Malaysia
  14. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor(PSWS), Malaysia
  15. Committee of Asian Women (CAW)
  16. North South Initiative (NSI), Malaysia
  17. Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Malaysia, Malaysia
  18. Pusat Komas
  19. Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, Bangladesh
  20. Workers Hub For Change(WH4C), Malaysia
  21. People Forum for Human Rights(People Forum), Kathmandu, Nepal
  22. Center for Migrant Advocacy, Philippines (CMA-Phils), Philippines
  23. The People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice (KIARA), Indonesia
  24. SEAFish for Justice, Indonesia
  25. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
  26. Asian Network for Social & Agricultural Development (SANSAD)
  27. Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community Association (CCFC), Cambodia
  28. Community Development Services (CDS), Colombo, Sri Lanka
  29. Adaleh Center for Human Rights Studies, Jordan
  30. Association for Community Development (ACD), Bangladesh
  31. Think Centre, Singapore
  32. Dibashram (Migrant Workers Cultural Centre), Singapore
  33. Burmese Worker Circle, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
  34. Tahanang Filipino Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  35. Institute of Education Development, Social, Religious and Cultural Studies (infest) Yogyakarta, Indonesia
  36. Migrant CARE Indonesia
  37. Migrant CARE Malaysia
  38. New Thessalonian Apostolate (NTA), Malaysia
  39. PieceWorks International
  40. Projek Dialog, Malaysia
  41. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Malaysia
  42. Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kebajikan Dan Persekitaran Positif Malaysia (SEED), Malaysia
  43. Radanar Ayar Association, Myanmar
  44. Asia Transnational Corporation Monitoring Network(ATNC)
  45. Workers Initiative Kolkata, India
  46. Asia Monitor Resources Centre (AMRC)
  47. Konfederasi Serikat Nasional (KSN), Indonesia
  48. Federation of Indonesian Trade Union (GSBI), Indonesia
  49. Sedane Labour Resource Centre, Indonesia
  50. Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), Cambodia
  51. Parti Sosialis Malaysia(PSM), Malaysia
  52. International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)
  53. Textile Garments Workers Federation, Bangladesh
  54. Australia Asia Workers Links, Australia
  55. Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA)
  56. Serikat Buruh Kerakyatan (SERBUK), Indonesia
  57. Angkatan Peduli Insan, Malaysia
  58. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT), Malaysia
  59. Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia
  60. Arts For Grabs, Malaysia
  61. Archdiocesan Office of Human Development, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  62. Geutanyoe Foundation
  63. Bhalobashi Bangladesh, Bangladesh
  64. Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM), Malaysia
  65. SAVE Rivers, Malaysia
  66. Harmonyworks, Malaysia
  67. The Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), Malaysia
  68. Justice For Sisters, Malaysia
  69. Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), Malaysia
  70. Parti Murba, Malaysia
  71. Kuliah Buku (KUBU), Malaysia
  72. Smile Education and Development Foundation, Myanmar
  73. Aliran Kesedaran Negara(ALIRAN), Malaysia
  74. Community Transformation Initiative (CTI), Malaysia
  75. Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation (MSN), Malaysia
  76. Hope Organization, Malaysia
  77. Advocates for Non-Discrimination and Access to Knowledge (ANAK), Malaysia
  78. Gusdurian Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  79. International Planned Parenthood Federation
  80. International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) Asia Pacific
  81. Civil Rights Committee of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Malaysia
  82. Malaysia Muda, Malaysia
  83. Malaysian Progressives in Australia
  84. VajraLink, Malaysia
  85. Electronics Industry Employees Union Southern Region, Malaysia
  86. Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM)
  87. GreenWatch, Dhaka, Malaysian
  88. Human Traficking Watch, Indonesia
  89. Gabungan Serikat Buruh Indonesia (GSBI), Indonesia
  90. Front Perjuangan Rakyat (FPR)
  91. International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) Indonesia,
  92. Keluarga Buruh Migran Indonesia (KABAR BUMI), Indonesia
  93. Institute for National and Democracy Studies (INDIES), Indonesia
  94. People Idea Culture, Malaysia
  95. The Human Lens
  96. Indonesian Migrant Muslim Alliance (GAMMI-HK), Hong Kong
  97. Al Jami’ayyatus Sholeha, Hong Kong
  98. United Indonesian Migrant Workers Against Overcharging, Hong Kong
  99. Asosiasi BMI Progresif (ABP), Hong Kong
  100. Warkop Aremania, Hong Kong
  101. Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (ATKI-HK), Hong Kong
  102. Jamaah Silahturohimi Blitar, (JSB-HK), Hong Kong
  103. Nurul Hidayah,Hong Kong
  104. Lentera Wong Tai Sin, Hong Kong
  105. Al Islami, Hong Kong
  106. Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU-HK), Hong Kong
  107. Asosiasi Pekerja Indonesia Timur Tengah (ASPITT), Hong Kong
  108. Al Istiqomah International Muslim Society, Hong Kong
  109. Indonesian Migrant Workers Union Macau (IMWUM), Macau
  110. Beringin Tetap Maidenlike and Benevolent (BTM & B), Hong Kong
  111. Orang Indonesia Merah Putih (OI-MP), Hong Kong
  112. Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) Penang, Malaysia
  113. Arakan Refugee Relief Committee (ARRC),Malaysia
  114. Alliance of Chin Refugees, Malaysia
  115. Kachin Refugee Committee, Malaysia
  116. The Patani, Patani/Thailand
  117. Tamil Nadu Land Rights Federation (TNLRF), India
  118. IMA Research Foundation, Bangladesh
  119. Future Watch Movement, Bangladesh
  120. ASEAN Services Employees Trade Union Council (ASETUC)
  121. Union Network International Asia Pacific Regional Office (UNI APRO)
  122. Peoples Forum, Nepal
  123. POURAKHI, Nepal
  124. Transient Workers Count Too, Singapore

Individuals

  1. Rev Ng Kok Kee, Pastor of Harvest Community Church Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
  2. Mahi Ramakrishnan, Filmmaker/Journalist
  3. Dr Chan Chee Khun, Academician
  4. Anselmo Lee, Activist
  5. Laurence Kwark, Activist
  6. Abu Hayat, Consultant on Bangladeshi Migration Corridor

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