Malaysia's immigration police yesterday detained 51 people, including 38 Bangladeshis, in a crackdown on irregular foreign workers.
Raiding two places known for housing migrants in Kuala Lumpur, police detained the 51, including five Nepalese and four Indonesians, online news portal Free Malaysia Today reported yesterday.
The police crackdown begins after the country's rehiring programme, launched two years ago to legalise undocumented workers, ended on June 30.
Talking to The Daily Star over phone yesterday evening, a Bangladeshi living in the Malaysian capital said law enforcers also raided Kota Raya, an area frequented by foreign workers, and detained many more migrants, including Bangladeshis.
The raid began in the early hours, amid widespread fears of arrests and deportations among thousands of irregular migrants in the Southeast Asian country. Many of them had paid agents hefty sums for legalisation under the rehiring programme, but were fooled instead.
The previous Malaysian government had given licences to three companies through which undocumented foreign workers could be registered for regularisation. As per regulations, the employers were supposed to renew the work permit of their workers. However, rights activists in Malaysia on several occasions said the employers were not doing so.
Rather, they passed the burden of levy money, as well as agent fees, on the migrants, often leaving them at the risk of being cheated, the activists said, criticising the crackdown.
They argue that many of the foreign workers in Malaysia have been facing difficult times and became undocumented because of the abuses by the employers, labour agents and brokers.
Even the rehiring programme, which began in early 2016, has not been transparent as it involved brokers and sub-agents in the regularisation process, said Adrian Pereira, executive director of North South Initiative, a rights body in Malaysia.
Many migrants may go into hiding and become victims of trafficking, he told The Daily Star from Kuala Lumpur over phone yesterday.
Adrian said the Malaysian government should give the migrants adequate time and put in place a transparent system for their regularisation.
Currently, an estimated eight lakh Bangladeshis are working in various sectors in Malaysia and some three lakh of them are undocumented.
The crackdown on illegal migrants has begun after the new Malaysian government, which came to power in May, announced that it wants to reduce dependence on foreign labour as well as check corruption in the foreign labour recruitment system.
Recently, the government has decided to cancel work permits of all foreign workers, who have been working in Malaysia for more than 10 years.
On June 30, Malaysia's immigration department's Director General Mustafar Ali said 155,680 irregular migrants working for 26,957 employers had applied for the regularisation, and 140,746 were regularised.
However, it was only 23 percent of the 600,000 cards targeted (to be given to regularised workers) by the Immigration Department, reported Malaysian state news agency, Bernama.
Mustafar also expressed disappointment with the attitude of employers over the issue.
“I emphasised many times that the deadline for registration is midnight tonight, and the deadline will not be extended,” he said at a press conference in Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia, right before the end of the rehiring programme's deadline.
He said after the deadline, the department would arrest undocumented migrants and prosecute their employers, including those employing immigrants with student passes, under the Immigration Act 1959/1963.
Bernama reported that employers and their irregular migrant workers crowded the Immigration Department headquarters for the regularisation at the 11th hour.
The most applicants were from Bangladesh, followed Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal, Mustafar said.