Confinement of Migrant Workers in Malaysia, Condemnable

Posted by Bulatlat

The Malaysian government – already notorious for the way it treats migrant workers, especially undocumented migrants – is set to implement yet another anti-migrant program. This time though, the government is taking it to the extreme.

Last month, the government issued a proposal to forcibly confine migrant workers to their ramshackles called kongsi. The confinement is aimed to monitor the movement of migrant workers.

Additionally, employers of foreign workers are being asked to make a daily log of the comings and goings of their workers which shall be made available upon request by the police. The confinement also covers the days off of foreign workers.

The plan is said to be part of the government’s move to transfer the functions of “management of foreign workers” from the human resources ministry to the home affairs ministry. This move assumes that foreign workers in Malaysia is part of the country’s security problem.

According to the government, the proposal is aimed to curb the rise of criminality in Malaysia. Police data indicate that the crime rate in Malaysia increased by 40 percent in 2006 compared to the previous year.

The increased crime rate is being blamed by the government on foreign workers. Even Deputy Minister of Internal Security Fu Ah Kiow drumbeats the data that “34 per cent – or 11,900 – of the 35,000 prisoners in the country are foreigners, many of whom are held on remand.” (Malaysiakini, 8March 2007)

However, police data also show that only two per cent of the crimes in Malaysia have been committed by foreign workers. The 11,900 migrant workers were imprisoned mainly due to immigration-related offenses.

Also, as the local Malaysian Trade Union Council (MTUC) said that the number of migrant workers in prison is less than 0.5% of the 2.6 million foreign workers in the country.

Modern-Day Slavery

The proposal can be clearly characterized as a throwback from the time of slavery when slaves were made to huddle in designated slave pens.

The plan reeks of violation of the most fundamental rights of the people as enshrined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including the right to mobility as well as to due process. To treat them like chattel will place migrant workers in even more abusive and exploitative conditions. Many foreign workers in Malaysia are undocumented, with estimates ranging from 700,000 to about one million. As undocumented migrants, they are already faced with the problems of low wage, inhumane working and living conditions, lack of benefits, as well as lack of access to basic services including health.

Local groups also stressed that the move will heighten xenophobia among the public and will create an unfounded atmosphere of fear. Hate crimes could even happen because of this.

Migrant workers as scapegoats for societal problems

The failure of the Malaysian government to address criminality is being put on the shoulders of foreign workers.

Putting the blame on foreign workers when host governments are at a loss on how to resolve national problems is not only exclusive to Malaysia.

In Hong Kong (HK), for example, the unemployment problem experienced for the past years has been rooted in the presence of foreign domestic workers (FDWs). This line of reasoning – despite the fact that studies made by the HK government itself state that the market for employers of local domestic workers and FDWs are vastly different – was used by the government to impose the levy for employers of FDWs.

At the same time, a cut on the wage of FDWs – the same amount as that of the levy for a two-year contract period – was also implemented which prompted FDWs to declare it as unjust taxation.

In the United States, the US Patriot Act – supposedly implemented in the name of national security – also unjustly puts the blame of terrorist attacks in the US to foreign workers.

Aside from the fact that putting the blame on foreign workers is cruel and unjust, what is also condemnable of such actions is the fact that in host countries, the contribution of foreign workers in building their current society and economic progress is forgotten in the face of national crises.

Meanwhile, in times of economic progress, benefits hardly tickle down to migrants.

Advocates of migrant’s rights, human rights organizations, local people’s groups and the international community should oppose this new proposal. Countries sending laborers to Malaysia must also show their condemnation to this inhuman move.(

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