Migrants and activists want the visiting Bangladeshi officials in Malaysia to negotiate regularisation of undocumented Bangladeshis before starting any fresh recruitments.
They say the undocumented migrants are facing harsh realities in Malaysia, including police raids and detention. They are now living in constant fear.
Employers also take advantage of the situation and pay them low wages. Many such Bangladeshis are living in jungles to avoid raids, they said.
“If our government is sincere about migrant welfare, it should strongly negotiate regularisation of undocumented Bangladeshis in Malaysia before any new recruitment,” said Mohammad Ismail, a Bangladeshi working at a hotel in Selangor.
He said police conducted raids and detained undocumented migrants frequently. Many of them filed police reports and accused Malaysian agents of fraud, but were still not spared.
“This is injustice,” Ismail told The Daily Star on Saturday over phone.
There are thousands of Bangladeshis in jail; they cannot return home even after serving sentences because they either do not have money or they cannot contact family members at home, he said. “I urge our minister to help these Bangladeshis.”
A Bangladeshi delegation, led by State Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Imran Ahmad, arrived in Malaysia last night.
During their visit until May 16, the delegation will meet Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran and chief minister of Sabah Sarwak province and discuss fresh recruitments from Bangladesh and welfare of the migrants.
The visit comes eight months after Malaysia suspended recruitment from Bangladesh following allegations of monopoly by a syndicate of 10 Bangladeshi recruiting agencies and some powerful lobbies of Malaysia’s former ruling party.
Under the G-to-G Plus deal signed between the two countries in late 2016, the migration cost was fixed at Tk 40,000, but it went up to Tk 4 lakh -- an issue that irked the Mahathir-led government. It then formed an independent body to frame a policy on management of foreign workers.
Meanwhile, many Bangladeshis were defrauded under an amnesty programme, which was in force between early 2016 and August 2018. Dozens of Bangladeshi workers told this correspondent during a visit to the Southeast Asian country late last year that they were defrauded by Malaysian companies or brokers in the regularisation process.
According to officials at the Bangladesh High Commission, there are an estimated eight lakh Bangladeshis in Malaysia, but it is difficult to say how many of them are undocumented. Some say it is two lakh, while others say it is more.
Adrian Pereira, executive director of North South Initiative that works for migrants, said the number is not the issue. “What we see is thousands of Bangladeshi migrants are facing harsh realities.
“There has to be a non-detention solution,” he said, adding that a vast majority of them were defrauded by agents, while some were victims of human trafficking.
As the Bangladeshi team meets Malaysian officials, it is important that they take care of the undocumented migrants first. “The undocumented migrants should be regularised and absorbed into the labour market. Only then should the government think of fresh recruitments,” he told The Daily Star.
Adrian said Sabah Sarwak, an autonomous province of Malaysia, has recently announced regularising all undocumented foreign workers. If Sarwak can do it, why not the federal government? he asked.
“Bangladesh must protect its citizens. They are not collateral,” the rights activist said.
Israfil Alam, MP, chairman of Bangladesh National Parliamentarians’ Caucus on Migration and Development, who recently visited Malaysia, said Bangladesh needs to strongly negotiate that Malaysia regularises and employs the undocumented workers first because they know the local language and rules.
“The undocumented workers have already spent hefty sums to find jobs there, and their deportation would be tragic,” he told The Daily Star recently.
Regarding new labour recruitment, Adrian said labour relations between Malaysia and Bangladesh were not transparent, and the high cost of migration was a major issue.
“Global industries are following the principles of zero migration cost. Bangladesh and Malaysia must follow it for the sake of labour rights and good business,” he said.