Thousands of undocumented Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia are in fear of arrest as the Malaysian authorities were set to launch a massive crackdown on them on Friday.
Migrant rights activists in Bangladesh have sought the intervention of prime minister Sheikh Hasina to raise the issues with Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad so that they can be legalised.
There is no specific data on the undocumented Bangladeshi workers but officials and migrant rights activists in Malaysia and Bangladesh assume that about one million Bangladeshis are staying in Malaysia without document.
With expiry of 3+1 amnesty programme, Malaysian Immigration Department was set to begin its large-scale crackdown on Friday on illegal immigrants as well as human trafficking syndicates, according to Malaysian media reports.
The malaymail.com reported on Friday that Malaysia was set to launch a major crackdown on undocumented migrant workers after the expiry of 3+1 amnesty which allowed the illegal migrants to turn themselves in.
But critics say human trafficking victims could be wrongly targeted.
Malaysia relies heavily on foreign domestic helpers as well as labourers from countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal for jobs shunned by locals including work on plantations and in construction, the report says.
When contacted, officials at Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur told New Age on Friday that Malaysian government offered the legalisation opportunities to all undocumented foreign workers for
two years and a half.
Among the foreigners, Bangladeshi workers were the highest in number to have grabbed the opportunity in Malaysia, a senior diplomat of Bangladesh high commission said.
The diplomat termed the fresh crackdown a normal phenomenon after expiry of the amnesty in the South East Asian country.
Bangladesh officials in Kuala Lumpur believe that the Malaysian government may extend the deadline of 3+1 amnesty for two more weeks.
Malaysian newspaper The Star reported on Thursday that Malaysian immigration director general Mustafar Ali said syndicates that indulged in ‘modern day slavery’ would be a priority for the department in the operation, dubbed Ops Mega 3.0.
‘These syndicates bring in foreign workers for a specific sector or industry but the workers end up working in other sectors altogether,’ he noted.
Between 2014 and August 28 this year, a total of 867,336 illegal immigrants signed up for the amnesty programme and returned to their home countries.
‘We will not extend it beyond the August 30 dateline. ‘Starting August 31, we will go all out to nab illegal immigrants nationwide,’ Mustafar warned.
Between January 1 and August 29 this year, the department conducted 9,449 enforcement operations and checked 116,270 foreigners, resulting in 29,040 being nabbed, he added.
‘The highest arrests were for illegals from Indonesia with 9,759, followed by Bangladesh (5,959), the Philippines (2,820) and Myanmar (2,715),’ he said.
Awaj Foundation director for migration Anisur Rahman Khan, who had experience of Malaysia labour market, said that Bangladesh high commission in Kuala Lumpur should take up the issues with Malaysian authorities that many Bangladesh workers were cheated by agents in Malaysia and failed to get legalised.
He said that the cheated workers should get further scope to be legalised and the cheating agencies should be brought to book.
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program chairman Shakirul Islam has urged prime minister Sheikh Hasina to take immediate steps and request her Malaysian counterpart to stop the crackdown on Bangladeshi workers.
‘I also request our prime minister to deal with the matter so that Malaysian government takes steps to legalise the workers who have been irregular due to corrupt system, not because of their own fault,’ he said.
Echoing OKUP chairman, migrant right campaigner and WARBE Development Foundation Chairman Syed Saiful Haque had also appealed to prime minister Sheikh Hasina to take up the Bangladeshi migrants’ issue with Malaysian prime minister.
He sought Bangladesh government’s steps to regularise the undocumented workers and solve other migrant issues in Malaysia.
According to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, over 9.5 lakh Bangladeshi workers have gone to work in Malaysia with immigration clearance since 1976.
Many Bangladeshi workers became undocumented in Malaysia after going there with so-called professional, student and tourist visa, BMET officials said.
Besides, there were Bangladeshi migrants who were trafficked to Malaysia through sea routes and became undocumented there.
CARAM Asia, a regional network of 42 member organisations in twenty origin and destination countries spanning across Asia and the Middle East, in a statement said that Malaysia should urgently halt crackdown on undocumented migrants, set up complaint mechanism to investigate permit renewals/re-hiring fraud committed by agents and regularise these migrants with strict monitoring and compliance.
Malaysia-based NGO Tenaganita, which works to protect and promote rights of women, migrants and refugees, also demanded that the Malaysia government halt the raids and crackdown on undocumented migrant workers, its executive director Glorene A Das said in a message conveyed to New Age.