Migrant Bangladeshi workers fear crackdown in Malaysia

Raheed Ejaz and Mohiuddin . Dhaka | Update:

Reuters File PhotoFear has spread among Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia, following a sudden crackdown by the authorities on illegal migrants there, despite the declaration of general amnesty. Many of the workers are going into hiding to avoid arrest.

Malaysia is the second largest destination for Bangladeshi workers, but the doors of the labour market there have been shut down to Bangladesh for the past one year.

Jordan Singh, a Bangladeshi from Sylhet now residing in Malaysia, spoke to Prothom Alo over mobile phone on Saturday, saying that while the police are not carrying out block raids this time; they are stopping and searching foreign workers on the streets. Anyone without a passport is being detained. Many of the workers can’t even go to the immigration booth to avail general amnesty as they are scared of being nabbed on the way. Instead they are going into hiding.

The Malaysian government has introduced a ‘back for good’ programme to send back foreign workers who do not have valid documents. Under this programme from 1 August to 31 December, the illegal workers will be able to return undeterred to their home countries. But suddenly the authorities have taken up the drive against illegal migrant workers.

Malaysia’s The Star Online on Saturday quoted the Malaysian authorities as saying that 39 foreign workers, including 12 from Bangladesh, were caught during a raid on seven vegetable and flower plantations in Cameron Highland. They have been detained for working without valid documents.

Secretary of the expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry Rownaq Jahan told Prothom Alo on Sunday evening that such a drive should not be taking place while the general amnesty is in force. They have not received any complaints in this regard so far, she said, but they would contact the high commission in this regard.

CARAM Asia, a regional organisation of 20 Asian countries dealing with the migration sector, estimates that there are about 2 to 3 million illegal migrant workers in Malaysia, though they could not specify the number such workers from Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s high commission in Malaysia estimates this to be around a few thousand, though certain development and business organisations working on migration do not agree with this number.

Bangladeshis working in Malaysia said that a legally employed migrant worker in Malaysia is paid 8 to 10 ringgits, that is, Tk 160 to 200, per hour, while an illegal migrant worker is paid on Tk 60 to 80 per hour.

According to Malaysia’s department of immigration, from January to June this year, 5,272 Bangladeshis were detained. The police then began the crackdown on illegal migrant workers from July and a few hundred Bangladeshis have been sent to jail.

The immigration department at Dhaka’s Shahajalal international airport said that 7,372 Bangladeshis were sent back from Malaysia in 2018 and around 2,500 were sent back from January to June this year.

Speaking to Prothom Alo over mobile phone, labour counselor at Bangladesh’s high commission in Kuala Lumpur Mohammad Zahirul Islam said that the detention of foreign workers had nothing to do with the general amnesty. The Malaysian authorities were cracking down in persons violating the immigration laws and on other charges.

He said, since 1 August around 200 Bangladeshis had been coming to the high commission to collect the required papers so they can avail the general amnesty to return home safely.

Labour market still closed

Due to an organised gang of Malaysia and involved in underhand business, Malaysia shut its doors on taking in new workers from 1 September 2018. On 12 September, it signed an agreement with Nepal to take workers from there, but the doors haven’t reopened for Bangladesh as yet.

Until the recruitment of workers had halted, 10 recruitment agencies of Bangladesh along with influential political and business quarters of Malaysia had controlled the labour market there. Upon coming to power in 2018, Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohammad raised the issue of this organised gang charging exorbitant sums of money.

The Malaysian parliament in 14 August 2018 passed the decision to stop taking workers from Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, secretary Rownaq Jahan has said that once the recruitment to Malaysia begins again, there will be no syndicate to control the business. However, so far no action has been taken against the 10 recruitment agencies accused of the underhand dealings.

CR Abrar, director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), has said that it will harm Bangladesh if other countries take over Malaysia’s promising labour market. He said that there is no visible action against those responsible for obstructing the labour market, adding that the government must ensure that the labour market is no longer controlled by any syndicate.

* This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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