Undocumented Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia are passing days fearing they would be arrested as the immigration police there are cracking down on illegal foreign workers.
“Police raids are being conducted every day over the last few days. Therefore, the undocumented Bangladeshis [in Malaysia] are worried,” Mohammad Shaheen, a Bangladeshi, told The Daily Star over the phone from Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
They are not going out to hangout at places like Kota Raya, a popular hangout in Kuala Lumpur, even on weekends, he said.
He claimed that many foreign workers in Malaysia became undocumented after being cheated by their employers or the agents.
The raids were stepped up after Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Friday announced that all irregular foreign workers would be detained and deported while the recruitment of new workers had been suspended.
Hamidi made the announcement just a day after Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on recruiting Bangladeshi workers.
On Saturday, however, Malaysian Human Resources Minister Richard Riot said the MoU with Bangladesh would not be affected.
According to an earlier decision, the Malaysian government was supposed to start the legalisation process of undocumented foreign workers on February 15.
This has made undocumented Bangladeshis in Malaysia confused.
Bangladesh's Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry Acting Secretary Begum Shamsunnahar told The Daily Star that she was aware of Malaysia starting the legalisation process but had no idea about anyone's arrest or deportation.
Some 2 lakh of the total 6 lakh Bangladeshis in the Southeast Asian nation are undocumented.
In overnight raids on Friday and Saturday, Malaysian immigration police arrested 971 foreign workers, including Bangladeshis. The exact number of Bangladeshis arrested was not known.
The arrestees were accused of having no identity documents, overstaying their visas, and holding unrecognised cards of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said immigration department director general Sakib Kusmi, according to Malaysian online news portal, Malaysiakini.
Talking to The Daily Star over the phone yesterday, Sohel Rana, another Bangladeshi in the Malaysian capital, said there was an “amnesty programme” that began in 2011.
During that time, thousands of Bangladeshis paid agents appointed by the Malaysian government to get work permits but were cheated instead, he said.
The brokers of the agents took money and passport from the Bangladeshis and disappeared.
Agile Fernandez, director of migrants' rights body -- Tenaganita -- on Friday told The Daily Star from Kuala Lumpur that it would be an injustice to the “irregular' migrants, if they were deported.
“This is because the workers were basically victims of corruption by the authorities. There are loopholes in the systems that lead to a situation where migrants cannot get their documents updated,” she said.
As Malaysia has halted fresh recruitment of foreign workers, it should now first legalise all the undocumented migrants and then go for new recruitment, if needed, Fernandez added.
MOU WITH BANGLADESH
Malaysia's opposition MP Charles Santiago yesterday challenged their government to disclose details of the MoU signed with Bangladesh in relation to the 1.5 million workers “controversy”.
“There is definitely a clear contradiction. This is a complicated issue and you have different ministers saying different things,” he told Malaysiakini.
“A full investigation must be conducted on this entire process [of foreign workers recruitment]. It has been previously reported that a company linked to the brother of the deputy prime minister [Zahid Hamidi] was involved in the process,” Santiago said.
“Since permits for foreign workers fall under the purview of the home ministry and Zahid is the home minister, could this be a reason why he was not the one who signed the deal?” he said.
Mentioning an immediate crackdown on undocumented migrants around the country, Santiago said that shows that there are a large number of foreign workers already here and the government should first look into registering them for legal employment, before bringing in more.
This, he said, would reduce the costs incurred to detain and deport them, he added.