Malaysia-based migration expert Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna said that human trafficking in the guise of labour migration has been an acute problem in South East Asia.
‘Each time the governments want to put in safeguards to tackle the problem, the traffickers either find a way around it or they are way ahead in circumventing the system,’ she said.
In an interview with New Age, Sumitha, also co-coordinator of Migration Working Group #Malaysia, a coalition of key NGOs and individuals who advocated for migrants’ rights, said that Bangladesh government needed to look at the root cause of why were migrant workers being trafficked when there was a legal migration system in place.
The high cost of recruitment and desperation is what pushes Bangladeshi migrants to use the irregular route, and they were being cheated by agents for the same reason, she said.
She added that, ‘Once the agent gets hold of workers’ passport and money, the workers have no choice but to take what comes their way. They have to listen to what the agent says, otherwise they would not be able to recoup the money from the agent or get his passport back.’
She said that the workers did not have access to correct information regarding the country they were travelling to and usually would rely on the agent who gave them a very different picture than the reality.
Asked about Malaysian context, she said that student visa was being abused very badly by Bangladeshi migrants and a stricter vetting process was needed to be in place to stop the abuse of the student visa.
‘The culprits are the agents who dupe the migrants into thinking that they can change the student visa to a work permit in Malaysia when in reality it is not allowed,’ she explained.
She said that information of registered recruiters and sub recruiters must be made online on government portals, including the cost of recruitment and a hotline to enable potential migrants to obtain accurate information.
She emphasised stricter enforcement of the recruitment agents and their sub-agents and proposed higher penalties, including jail sentences, travel bans etc.
‘Workers must have the right to seek redress against the agents who cheat them. Each must have the right to file a case of cheating against the agent and recouping the amount paid to the agent,’ she argued.
Asked how the organised rackets of transnational traffickers to be demolished, she said that a trafficking syndicate could not operate without the assistance of someone in authority. ‘Weed out corruption in the system,’ she suggested.
To ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, she suggested tailoring a pre-departure programme for Malaysia with the involvement of CSO and trade unions in Bangladesh and Malaysia including an audit process of the pre-departure programmes to ensure that all migrants attended must be urgently be implemented.
She also said that TV and radio programmes should be launched to disseminate the correct information about migrants.
She recommended stricter enforcement and auditing of Bangladesh panel clinics to issue medical certificates for departing Bangladeshi workers, beefing up resources and numbers of personnel in the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and engaging local CSOs to provide necessary services.
On the role of the civil society and NGOs, she said that CSOs and NGOS were the eyes and ears for the government as they worked on the ground with migrant communities and know through their case management, which policy worked and would work.
‘Providing constructive criticism of the bad or failed policy as well and provide well thought-out alternatives would certainly benefit all stakeholders,’ she said, adding that the governments need to open up spaces to the CSOs to have an open discussion.
She also said that some CSOs might be blunt and harsh in their approach but their intentions are genuine — to see a better migration system where the workers’ human rights were upheld.
She also said that the government should provide funding to the CSOs to enable them to do more work on promoting safe migration.
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