UN experts concerned over Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia

A worker holds palm oil fruits while posing for a picture at an oil palm plantation in Slim River, Malaysia on 12 August 2021.Reuters file photo

UN experts have expressed dismay about the situation of Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia, who had travelled there in the hope of employment after engaging in the official labour migration process.

“The situation of Bangladeshi migrants who have lived in Malaysia for several months or longer is unsustainable and undignified,” the experts noted in a statement released on the website of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Malaysia needs to take urgent measures to address the dire humanitarian situation of migrants and protect them from exploitation, criminalisation and other human rights abuses.”

The experts include Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Gehad Madi, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Robert McCorquodale (Chair-Rapporteur), Fernanda Hopenhaym (Vice-Chair), Pichamon Yeophantong, Damilola Olawuyi, Elzbieta Karska, Working Group on business and human rights.

They noted that many migrants find on arrival in Malaysia that they do not have employment as promised and are often forced into overstaying their visas. Consequently, these migrants risk arrest, detention, ill-treatment and deportation, the experts said.

They expressed concern that large sums of money were being generated through the fraudulent recruitment of migrant workers by criminal networks operating between Malaysia and Bangladesh. 

Migrants were being deceived, recruited by companies that are frequently fake, and obliged to pay exorbitant recruitment fees which pushes them into debt bondage, the experts said.

“We received reports that certain high-level officials in both Governments are involved in this business or condoning it. This is unacceptable and needs to end,” the experts said. 

“Perpetrators of these exploitative recruitments must be held accountable,” they said, adding that so far action taken against these private businesses and fraudulent recruitment companies have been wholly insufficient, both in Bangladesh and Malaysia. 

“Meanwhile, vulnerable migrants have been criminalised and some have faced severe reprisals for reporting the exploitation suffered,” they said.

They urged Malaysia and Bangladesh to investigate and address the situation. “Malaysia must govern labour migration more effectively by adopting adequate safeguards,” the experts said, urging the country to fulfil its obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to protect migrant workers against human rights abuses by businesses operating in Malaysia and ensure that these businesses respect human rights. 

Malaysia must also step up efforts to identify, protect and assist victims of exploitation, enforce existing legal protections against trafficking in persons and uphold the country’s international human rights obligations, they said.

The experts have previously engaged with the Governments of Malaysia and Bangladesh on these issues.