MALAYSIA’S iteration of its plan at a meeting with foreign envoys of source countries in Kuala Lumpur, to send back undocumented workers to sending countries raises worries and brings to the fore a few issues for Bangladesh, which has a large number of its citizens working undocumented there, to attend to. Although Bangladesh’s Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training reports more than 800,000 Bangladeshis now employed in Malaysia, Malaysia-based migrant and human rights non-governmental organisations put the figure of Bangladeshi workers, both documented and undocumented, at about one million. Both the estimates being correct shows that there are more than 200,000 Bangladeshis in Malaysia who work there without valid papers while the BMET estimates might very well include undocumented Bangladeshis. This paints a bleak picture. A joint working group meeting between Bangladesh and Malaysia in May 30–31 is reported to have discussed overall issues of worker recruitment and undocumented workers as Malaysia launched a crackdown on undocumented migrant workers. Bangladesh officials having attended the meeting, however, say that there has been no talk of deportation of all undocumented Bangladeshis from Malaysia. Yet this provides for no safeguard and Bangladesh authorities seem to have woken up to the issue late.
Although the report that New Age published on June 4 says that Kuala Lumpur launched the crackdown in July 2018, at least 328 undocumented Bangladeshis in Malaysia are reported to have been detained as early as July 2017, as part of a crackdown by Malaysia’s immigration department on foreign workers staying there illegally, that too immediately after a deadline for foreign workers to apply for temporary enforcement card, or e-card which is a validation to allow foreign workers with no valid document to work there, expired by the turn of June. The rehiring programme, which began in February 2016, was to offer chances for illegal Bangladeshi workers to become legal until December that year. BMET data, as reported in September 2018, say that about a million Bangladeshis have gone to Malaysia since 1976 while many of them have returned and yet a greater number of Bangladeshis have been in the country through illegal means. While Bangladeshis are the highest in number to have grabbed the legalisation opportunity, migrant rights activists in both Malaysia and Bangladesh think that in the absence of specific data, the number of undocumented Bangladeshis there could be about a million, which is gravely worrying.
A situation like this warrants that Bangladesh should request Malaysia to grant a fresh amnesty to undocumented Bangladeshi workers for legalisation while Bangladesh mission there should make arrangement so that the workers come forward to be legalised. Bangladesh should also request Malaysia to send the workers already detained back home without harassing them in detention if any move for an extension for legalisation fails. Dhaka should also afford consular services to the arrested so that they do not suffer unnecessarily. Bangladesh sends workers to Malaysia under a memorandum of understanding, which is not binding. Dhaka must attend to such problems of Bangladeshis going to Malaysia, and other countries, which creates scope for exploitation.
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