(File pix) Migrant workers waiting to register for E-cards in Seberang Jaya, Penang, recently. Tenaganita calls for a plan to improve the immigration system.

THE issuing of E-cards for illegal migrant workers was lauded and welcomed by many, including Tenaganita, an organisation that works on issues regarding migrant workers, refugees and human trafficking.

After the deadline for the issuing of the cards passed on June 30, thousands of migrant workers, and a few employers, have been subjected to raids and detention. 

According to a newspaper, 2,309 workers have been arrested since July 1. Fifty-two employers were picked up on suspicion of hiring undocumented workers.

Tenaganita is upset to see such large numbers of undocumented workers, including refugees, being handcuffed, arrested and sent to detention centres.

From interviews with migrant workers published by the media, many migrant workers have been cheated, swindled of their money and were victims of false promises.

They have lost their passports and documents to employers and agents, and left in an undocumented status, open to arrest, detention, possible whipping and deportation.

In crackdowns, refugees and asylum seekers who fled persecu-
tion were also arrested and detained. Without screening and identification, even those with a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees documentation are criminalised.

The lives and safety of women and children who have been subjected to torture and violence are at stake.

Many of those detained have been in situations that bear the hallmarks of human trafficking.

The responsibility and capacity to apply for and obtain the E-Cards rest with employers, who rely on agents to facilitate the process.

Migrant workers cannot apply for the E-card on their own, but they are the ones who bear the brunt of the raids, detention and punishment, instead of employers and agents who have shirked their responsibilities.

There are six million to seven million migrant workers of whom three million to four million are said to be undocumented.

However, as of the deadline, only 155,688 undocumented workers were registered by 26,957 employers, and 140,746 E-cards were issued.

Tenaganita notes that the Immigration Department has put the blame on employers for failing to register their undocumented workers.

While we agree with this to a certain degree, we expect to see more efforts on the part of the authorities — Immigration Department, Labour Department and the police — to regulate and manage migrant labour in an effective and transparent manner without fear or favour.

The government should not only pay heed to the voice of employers, but also uphold the rights of workers, including migrant workers, who are equally important in the work force.

One of the reasons for the chaos in the management of migration is the involvement of unscrupulous agents in cahoots with employers.

Combating corruption and catching perpetrators are among ways to address the issue.

For years, Tenaganita has been calling on Malaysia to build and enforce a policy regarding migration.

After decades of employing migrant workers, Malaysia does not have clear and proven systems to address their pre-departure, post-arrival and repatriation.

Whatever systems it has are ridden with weak enforcement and corruption. We must take a stand against perpetrators of human trafficking rather than choosing to punish migrant workers.

We must work with migrant countries of origin that have
not taken a serious view on
how their nationals are treated in Malaysia.

We must stop having diplomatic handshakes, but sit with stakeholders to discuss issues that concern migrant workers.

We must choose to do better for migrant workers, who contribute to our country.

It will be unjust to make workers subject to arrest or extortion by unscrupulous stakeholders.

Tenaganita calls for:

THE halt to the crackdown on migrants and refugees;

THE release of detainees, and an end to forced deportations of migrants and refugees; and,

A SYSTEMATIC plan to address flaws in the immigration system, including enacting legislation to recognise refugees and a comprehensive rights-based policy for the recruitment, placement and employment of migrants and refugees in the country.

We also call for an immediate end to the attacks on migrants and refugees.

 

GLORENE A. DAS

Executive director, Tenaganita Women’s Force, Petaling Jaya, Selangor

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