Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Malaysia Cracks Down on Migrants

By ALEX ELLGEE Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The crackdown in Malayisa on illegal workers began on Sunday with the Negri Sembilan Immigration Department arresting 116 foreigners, according to its director Pisal Mustafa.

Thirteen of those arrested in the western Malaysian state had come from Burma, he said, with 68 from Indonesia and the rest originating from India, Cambodia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Nepal. All were aged between 22 and 38.

The migrants were arrested for overstaying their visas and/ or not being in possession of travel documents, and were sent to Lenggeng detention center. Thirty immigration officers were involved in the operation, codenamed “Ops Kutip,” he said.

However, Pranom Somwong, a coordinator for Workers Hub For Change and Network for Action on Migrants in Malaysia told The Irrawaddy she had received reports from the Burmese workers that they were, in fact, in possession of travel documents.

“We’ve been told that some of the workers who were arrested over the weekend were holding travel documents. When the police came, the workers tried to show their documents but were beaten up by the police,” she said.

Human rights groups are concerned about what awaits those arrested at the Lenggeng detention center, where abuses have been frequently documented.

“Having interviewed several people who have been detained there I can tell you it’s extremely overcrowded and new arrivals are forced to sleep outside without blankets,” a representative for an ethnic refugee organization told The Irrawaddy.

“There are only eight toilets for nearly 1,500 people, and the food they receive is inadequate. It took three months for UNHCR card holders to be released,” he added.

According to the coordinator of a local labor rights organization, police have also been conducting raids in Chinatown district in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, he said many Burmese were among those detained. He said that “plain-clothes police rounded up the workers and bundled them into police wagons. Although the trucks are suitable for no more than 30 persons, they were putting about 40 persons in each one.

“Most of them were released from the police station because their documents were in order,” he said, adding that the raids have been a nightly occurence this week.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian home minister has told the national press that the authorities hope to create a system which will allow them to monitor “each and every foreigner” who enters Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said they hope this will create an environment in which illegal immigrants would “feel afraid and threatened, and be prepared to leave the country immediately.”

Commenting on the home minister's statement, Pranom Somwong said she felt it wasn’t the appropriate way to deal with the problem.

“It seems like the government wants to make every foreigner––even if you have passport or visa––afraid to live in Malaysia. This type of language gives a green light to the police to carry out heavy-handed raids with impunity,” she said.

“The Burmese migrant communities are very worried. The raids are going on every day. There are reports on the TV all day in which they only blame the workers. Instead they need to pressure the employers to document the workers,” she said.

According to Malaysia's Home Ministry, last year Malaysian authorities carried out 7,099 operations against illegal immigrants, which saw 47,310 people being detained, including 26,545 cases of illegal entry and 8,655 cases of overstaying.

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