Asianbangla Desk : Thousands of Bangladeshi and other expatriate workers in Malaysia are in fear as the country’s immigration department is set to begin a major crackdown on undocumented migrants after an amnesty programme ended on Thursday.
“I went to Cyberjaya where there are a lot of construction sites. Undocumented Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Indonesian workers were seriously afraid. They are not even leaving their rooms,” said Abu Hayat, a migration researcher based in Kuala Lumpur.
Even the ones who have work permits are scared as there are instances of documented workers being arrested, he told The Daily Star over phone yesterday. The situation is similar across Malaysia, he added.
The amnesty programme that began a year ago allowed undocumented migrants in Malaysia to pay a fine of RM300 (about Tk 6,000) and another RM100 fee for a special pass to return home.
Mustafar Ali, Malaysian immigration director-general, on the Facebook page of his department, on Thursday said, “The amnesty deadline will not be extended. We will intensify our operations against illegal immigrants starting on Friday. We have given them ample time to sign up for the programme.”
Abu Hayat said yesterday was Malaysia’s Independence Day and the crackdown was likely to begin early today.
The immigration DG said syndicates that treat workers like “modern-day slaves” would be busted in the operation dubbed Ops Mega 3.0.
Nearly half of a million Bangladeshis in the Southeast Asian country are undocumented.
Mohammad Zinnat, a Bangladeshi worker in Johor Baru area of Malaysia, told this correspondent yesterday that he paid an agent RM 7,000 ten months ago to get his work permit renewed, but he was yet to receive it.
“I have been calling the Bangladeshi agent for many days, but he has not responded,” he said, adding he was in panic.
Immigration DG Mustafar said his department arrested 28,063 undocumented migrants and 799 employers in over 9,200 raids between January and August 15 this year.
Multiple sources in Malaysia said over one third of the arrestees were likely to be Bangladeshis.
“Starting on Friday, our efforts will only increase as we aim to free the country of illegal immigrants,” the DG said on Facebook.
Rights groups, meanwhile, say many migrants were duped by traffickers who did not provide them with legal documents. Besides, exploitation forced many workers with valid papers to leave their jobs.
“The government is not recognising them as victims but sees them as illegals — this is wrong,” Aegile Fernandez, director of the Kuala Lumpur-based migrant rights group Tenaganita, was quoted by Thompson Reuters Foundation as saying.
“Why is the government hunting down migrants who have contributed so much to the country? Why aren’t the perpetrators being hunted down?” she added.
Harsh measures meted out against undocumented migrants, who are sometimes jailed, whipped and deported if arrested — are tantamount to “torture”, Fernandez said.
Tenaganita Executive Director Glorene Das in an email to this correspondent said the large scale enforcement operations that were a euphemism for brutal, inhumane arrests and detention, had consistently failed to produce any beneficial results, except for venal enforcement personnel and unethical agents.
“I wonder if the home ministry and immigration department keep track of how many times it had made such a pledge. Better set achievable goals than make fools of yourselves year in and year out.”
If the number of undocumented migrant workers is anywhere close to the conservative estimate of 5 million, the transportation and housing of the detained persons would result in logistical nightmares, setting the stage for more abuses, corruption and inefficiencies, Glorene said.