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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9220
JPY
USD
119.88
GBP
USD
0.6757
CAD
USD
1.2640
INR
USD
62.626

Rates may not be current.