ASEAN lawmakers express concern over ongoing crackdown against undocumented migrants in Malaysia


ASEAN lawmakers express concern over ongoing crackdown against undocumented migrants in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR – Lawmakers from across the ASEAN region expressed concerns today over the Malaysian government’s ongoing crackdown against undocumented migrants in the country, which began on 1 July and has already resulted in thousands detained in facilities notorious for their poor conditions.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a collective of regional lawmakers, urged the Malaysian government to prioritize the protection of human rights and ensure the fair treatment of all workers, many of whom end up undocumented through no fault of their own.

“A desire to decrease the number of undocumented workers in the country can never be an excuse to further victimize the vulnerable. While Malaysia has a legitimate need to address the fact that so many migrants find themselves without proper paperwork, it must ensure that basic human rights are respected for all people at all times,” said APHR Board Member Mu Sochua, a member of the Cambodian National Assembly.

Around 1.9 million migrant workers are legally registered in Malaysia and at least as many undocumented, with some estimates suggesting up to 6 million. The Malaysian government recently concluded its latest exercise in registering undocumented migrants, which resulted in the registration of some 161,000 workers. Immediately following the close of the registration period on 30 June, Malaysian authorities began conducting raids on facilities that are known to employ large numbers of migrant workers, such as factories and restaurants, and have arrested and detained at least 3,000 undocumented workers.

As those detained are sent to the country’s overstretched immigration detention centers, the current crackdown risks worsening the already dire conditions in those facilities, parliamentarians warned.

“Even before this crackdown, Malaysia’s immigration detention centers were severely overcrowded and lacking in even the most basic of services. The Malaysian government must provide answers as to how they are addressing this sudden influx of thousands of detainees and how they will ensure that conditions do not deteriorate further,” Mu Sochua said.

In April, APHR voiced concerns after reports emerged that over 100 people had died in the past two years in Malaysian immigration detention centers. Although the Malaysian government pledged an investigation into the allegations, little has been done to address the alarmingly poor conditions in the centers since, and it is unclear how the facilities are handling the new influx of detainees.

“It is important for embassies of countries sending large numbers of workers to Malaysia to demand full access to their detained nationals, as well as accurate figures of the number of their citizens currently being detained. Foreign embassies have a responsibility to represent their citizens and to demand answers from the Malaysian government. At the same time, Malaysian authorities should be transparent and make such data readily available to all relevant stakeholders,” Mu Sochua added.

Parliamentarians noted that migrants often end up undocumented for a variety of reasons outside their control. In many cases, their employers have failed to renew work permits or withheld passports, or recruitment agents failed to secure appropriate permissions in the first place. Others lack documentation simply because they are asylum-seekers or victims of human trafficking.

“It’s no secret that many so-called ‘illegal migrants’ in Malaysia in fact lack documentation through no fault of their own, as a result of unscrupulous practices by employers or recruitment agencies. In rounding up and detaining thousands of workers indiscriminatingly, Malaysian authorities are only further victimizing people in desperate need of protection and making them pay the price of the government’s failure to regulate recruitment agents and traffickers,” said APHR Board Member Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.

Lawmakers reiterated the need for regional solutions to address the widespread abuse of migrant workers throughout the ASEAN region, and for comprehensive and coordinated regional regulations to protect the rights and safety of migrants.

“While abuses are particularly egregious in Malaysia, migrant workers tend to be treated exceedingly poorly throughout ASEAN. The lack of coordinated action among ASEAN governments to protect human rights in the context of migration is contributing to this problem and giving free reign to employers, recruitment agents, and authorities to abuse migrant workers,” Sundari said.

“ASEAN governments must remember that migrant workers, whether documented or undocumented, are not commodities, but people who have made enormous contributions to the region’s progress. If ASEAN is to truly embrace its ‘people-centered’ claim, it cannot continue to put business interests ahead of those of its own citizens. If regional governments can come to an agreement on regulations governing trade, surely they can do the same for migrants,” she concluded.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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