Bangladeshis among 500 held in Malaysia crackdown on illegal migrants
12:00 AM, September 03, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:00 PM, September 03, 2018

Bangladeshi workers in Malaysia

Crackdown sets off fear, anxiety

Hundreds of Bangladeshis and other foreign workers usually throng popular destinations like Bukit Bintang, Kota Raya, Jalan Petaling and Jalan Silang in Kuala Lumpur in the weekend which is on Sunday.

However, these places were almost deserted on Sunday, as the Malaysian immigration police began a major crackdown on the undocumented migrants on September 1. The foreign workers are now avoiding public gatherings. Some are staying indoors, while others are passing the nights in areas where they work.

More than 500 undocumented migrants, including several Bangladeshis, were detained on the first day of the crackdown. The number of arrests made yesterday could not be known immediately.

Malaysian Immigration Department Director General Mustafar Ali said the crackdown would continue to free the country of all illegal foreign workers.

Saravana Kumar, a deputy director of the department, said they have planned to arrest and deport around 400,000 illegal immigrants and arrest about 45,000 employers in the first phase of the operation that would continue until the yearend, reports The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

The crackdown began after a government deadline for irregular migrant workers to return to their respective countries expired on August 30. Under an amnesty programme that began two years ago, the government allowed the workers to return home by paying a fine equivalent to Tk 8,000.

During the same period, the Malaysian government announced a rehiring programme.

Migrants and rights activists alleged that several of the undocumented migrants have applied for regularising their immigration status and paid hefty sums to agents and companies appointed by the previous Malaysian government, but they are yet to be regularised.

“Those who have applied for rehiring are also facing arrest. It is totally unfair,” said Amir Hossain, a Bangladeshi, who works in Ampang area of Kuala Lumpur.

He said he had a holiday yesterday but avoided going to Kota Raya area. His nephew was arrested a month ago though he had applied for regularisation and the receipt was with him, he added.

“However, his employer went to the immigration and got him out of detention camp after 25 days,” Amir said.

Mohammad Ali, a Bangladeshi living in Serdang area in Kuala Lumpur, said there are 300 to 400 Bangladeshi workers in the area he works in. More than 50 percent of them do not have their papers updated, he added.

“Nowadays they are not cooking meals at their rooms. They have dinner at hotels and sleep at the project sites to avoid arrest,” Ali told this correspondent over phone yesterday.

Those sleeping in their rooms remain in constant fear of raid by the immigration police, he added.

Ali said he paid an agent RM 6,500 (Tk 1.3 lakh) one year ago, but his immigration documents were not updated yet.

“Why didn't the Malaysian authorities legalise our documents? Why are they now arresting the migrants? Our government is also not asking Malaysia anything about it,” said Ali, an air-condition maintenance supervisor.

Abu Hayat, a migration researcher living in Kuala Lumpur, said the migrants across Malaysia are living in sheer fear and panic. Many migrants are hiding in the rural areas since the incumbent government heightened its operation.

The Bangladesh government should come up to hold an immediate meeting, calling the Malaysian government not to punish those who have applied for regularisation by paying fees, he added.

There are some one million Bangladeshis in Malaysia. Of them, nearly 50 percent are irregular though most of them have applied for regularisation, according to the Bangladesh high commission in Kuala Lumpur.

The high commission officials could not be contacted despite repeated calls to learn if they would negotiate with the Malaysian authorities for not arresting the migrants who have applied for legalisation.

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