Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Southeast Asian lawmakers on Wednesday called on Malaysia to treat undocumented workers fairly and respect their human rights. This comes as Kuala Lumpur carries on with an immigration crackdown that has rounded up more than 3,300 foreigners this month, according to government figures.
As of 10 pm 12 July (local time), immigration agents had detained 3,323 workers without proper papers since the crackdown began on 1 July, Malaysia’s Immigration Department said.
The detainees are mostly from Southeast Asia and South Asia. They include 1,230 Bangladeshis, 825 Indonesians, 273 Myanmar nationals, 119 Vietnamese, 123 Thais and 95 Filipinos, department officials said.
Malaysia launched the crackdown a day after the government’s deadline for workers to register with the immigration authorities expired.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) issued a statement expressing concern over the round-up taking place in Malaysia.
“A desire to decrease the number of undocumented workers in the country can never be an excuse to further victimise the vulnerable,” said Mu Sochua, an APHR board member and member of the Cambodian National Assembly.
The group describes itself as a collective of regional lawmakers made up of current, former and retired parliamentarians from across the ten-nation ASEAN bloc.
According to the parliamentarians, the government was able to register only 161,000 undocumented migrants through its Foreign Worker Temporary E-Card Program. This was done to give employers an opportunity to regularise the status of the undocumented workers on their pay.
At the same time, 63 employers allegedly involved in hiring undocumented workers have also been arrested, said Mustafar Ali, the director-general of the immigration department. More than 30,000 of such workers have been repatriated since the beginning of this year, he added.
According to NGOs, about two million legally registered migrant workers and at least two million undocumented workers live in Malaysia, which has a population of about 32 million.
Most undocumented immigrants work in construction, palm oil plantations, factories and cleaning services, doing what locals describe as “3D” – dangerous, difficult and dirty – jobs.
Malaysia, a federation of 13 states and three federal territories, has experienced a surge in the number of low-income workers mainly from Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh after its economy posted robust growth in the past few years.