News / Economy

Activists Warn Malaysia Crackdown May Sweep Up Refugees

Detained suspected illegal migrant workers from Indonesia stand before their documents are checked during a crackdown on illegal migrant workers in Nilai, outside Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2013.
Detained suspected illegal migrant workers from Indonesia stand before their documents are checked during a crackdown on illegal migrant workers in Nilai, outside Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2013.
Labor and human rights activists are warning that asylum seekers and refugees may get swept up in Malaysia’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants and that the country is not equipped to handle them properly.

Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has promised the nationwide operation to detain and deport as many as half a million foreigners will follow international standards. But Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch says Malaysia is far from being in line with such standards.

“Malaysian law doesn’t recognize refugee status. There’s no actual provision for status for refugee in immigration law, and unfortunately what that means is that the Malaysian government really has an open field in front of it,” Robertson, the deputy director of the group’s Asia Division, said Tuesday from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

There are more than 100,000 refugees registered in Malaysia, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The majority of them are ethnic Burmese minorities who say they have fled persecution back home.

Urban refugees

The men, women and children are known as “urban refugees” because there are no special camps for them. They live in low-cost housing scattered across the country, making it difficult to distinguish refugees from other migrants who may or may not be in the country legally.

“These people are in many cases in places where this crackdown is going to come," said Robertson. "So they’re going to be sweeping up refugees in addition to undocumented workers.”  

More than 2,000 immigrants were rounded up on the first day of the operation on Sunday, about a quarter of the people whose papers were examined, according to the Home Ministry. Indonesian, Burmese, Bangladesh and Nepalese nationals made up most of those detained.

Burmese labor activists in the country say migrants are nervous about what seems to be a chaotic process.

“There’s widespread arrests in factories, industrial zones and in the cities,” activist Aung Gyi reported from Kuala Lumpur. “They target areas where foreigners live. In the area known as Myanmar village where a lot of Burmese are living, they have arrested Burmese who have UNHCR documents, legal work permits, and also illegals.”

Help for some, not all

U Soe Win, a labor attaché with the Burmese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said a Burmese government delegation will soon leave for Malaysia to discuss the situation. He expressed some hope for refugees, but said others may be on their own.

“We cannot do much for illegal Burmese workers if they violate the immigration law. My best advice to them now is to be careful in the daily activities. Since this is an operation, a lot of workers will be rounded up, but those with legal documents will not be detained,” U Soe Win said.

He said Burmese immigrants facing repatriation can apply for a certificate of identity at the embassy and arrange to return home.

It will be a painful process for many of the immigrants, some of whom came to Malaysia on their own, or with the help of paid human smugglers, to work on palm oil plantations and construction sites, or to care and cook for Malaysian families. For others who were trafficked to the country as sex slaves, it could be a relief.

Traffic cops

But Robertson of Human Rights Watch says he has as much concern about Malaysia’s ability to handle human trafficking victims properly as he does about refugees.

“I would venture that the frontline police officer in Malaysia couldn’t identify a human trafficking victim with a cheat sheet,” he said.

Malaysia landed on the U.S. State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List this year for the fourth year in a row because of the government’s poor compliance with standards to end human trafficking.

Malaysia’s Home Minister has promised that the crackdown on illegal immigration will be sensitive, and that immigrants who qualify for legal papers will be processed. He is encouraging immigrants to work directly with government officials and not with middlemen who could exploit them.

That said, the minister said authorities will not compromise in their efforts. Their target, he said, is to “achieve zero illegal immigrants.”


This report was prepared in collaboration with VOA's Burmese Service.

You May Like

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8916
JPY
USD
118.82
GBP
USD
0.6479
CAD
USD
1.2019
INR
USD
63.500

Rates may not be current.