UCA News

Malaysia’s detention of children irks rights groups

Malaysia is one of the largest migrant-receiving countries in Southeast Asia, says International Organization for Migration
Malaysian Immigration’s temporary Sungai Bakap depot in Penang from which hundreds of undocumented migrants escaped in April 2022

Malaysian Immigration’s temporary Sungai Bakap depot in Penang from which hundreds of undocumented migrants escaped in April 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: August 08, 2023 12:02 PM GMT
Updated: August 09, 2023 04:03 AM GMT

Rights groups and non-government organizations have slammed the Malaysian government for detention of children and violation of their rights during a raid on undocumented migrants in the country.

In a joint statement issued on Aug. 8, five rights groups and NGOs called the detention of children from age eight and above an “infringement” of their basic rights and demanded their immediate release, Free Malaysia Today reported.

“This is an infringement of the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration because it violates their civil liberties and impacts their mental well-being,” the groups said.

The signatories include Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (Selangor Friends of Women Association), Beyond Borders Malaysia, Tenaganita, Aliran, and the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

The reaction came after Syamsul Bahrin Mohshin, director of the Kuala Lumpur immigration department on Aug. 4 announced the detention of 425 undocumented migrants between the ages of eight and 54 at Cheria Heights apartments.

The groups further alleged that the Malaysian government has failed in upholding its promises to the migrant communities.

“Malaysia has also failed to uphold its pledge to implement policies and legislation that would protect the rights of the most vulnerable communities,” the statement alleged.

They cited Malaysian Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s statement in February 2023 saying that children held in detention centers would be handed over to NGOs.

The groups alleged that the undocumented migrants’ children were still in detention with their family members since their arrest last Friday.

The lack of documentation of the migrants was an administrative issue, the groups said, urging the government to arrest the labor agents and employers involved in hiring them

“The lack of documents and work visas are administrative offenses, which are also due to unscrupulous labor agents and employers,” the group said.

The group also condemned the raids in housing areas saying that such events would “traumatize innocent people” and were “a clear violation of human rights.”

In April 2023, the Malaysian government launched an investigation into possible fraud after hundreds of migrant workers who arrived from South Asia were rendered jobless despite paying high fees for migration, Reuters reported.

Reportedly, hundreds of workers from Bangladesh and Nepal arrived in December 2022 after paying up to 20,000 Malaysian Ringgit (US$4,500) to middlemen to get employment.

In August 2021, Malaysian government said nearly 90,000 undocumented migrants were repatriated within one year and US$12.3 million was collected in penalties from them under amnesty programs to legalize or send foreign workers back home.

In 2020, Malaysia launched two “recalibration” programs aimed at enabling undocumented migrant laborers to escape deportation and work legally in the country.

They could either apply to return to their home countries after paying a fine of 500 Malaysian Ringgit (US$118) or stay and work legally in sectors deemed “difficult, dangerous or dirty” such as the manufacturing, construction, agricultural, and plantations sectors.

According to the scheme, undocumented migrants could stay in Malaysia while employers apply for their legalization.

Those undocumented migrant workers unfit or ineligible for the legalization program are allowed to leave Malaysia with minimal fines.

Malaysia’s palm oil plantations heavily depend on foreign migrant workers.

In 2021, about 80–85 percent of the plantation workforce, or some 265,000 people, were foreigners, according to Malaysian Palm Oil Board, Benar News reported.

There were about 2.2 million documented migrant workers in Malaysia in 2022, according to government data.

Besides, the country is home to an estimated 1.2 to 3.5 million undocumented or irregular migrants, making it one of the largest migrant-receiving countries in Southeast Asia, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Expatriate workers occupy 15.3 percent of the Malaysian workforce and dominate the low-skilled and semi-skilled job sectors, the agency reports.

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