Slavery in modern
Confinement of Migrant Workers in Malaysia,
BY ASIA PACIFIC MISSION
Posted by Bulatlat
The Malaysian government – already
notorious for the way it treats migrant workers, especially undocumented
migrants – is set to implement yet another anti-migrant program. This time
though, the government is taking it to the extreme.
Last month, the government issued a
proposal to forcibly confine migrant workers to their ramshackles called
kongsi. The confinement is aimed to monitor the movement of migrant
Additionally, employers of foreign workers
are being asked to make a daily log of the comings and goings of their
workers which shall be made available upon request by the police. The
confinement also covers the days off of foreign workers.
The plan is said to be part of the
government’s move to transfer the functions of “management of foreign
workers” from the human resources ministry to the home affairs ministry.
This move assumes that foreign workers in Malaysia is part of the
country’s security problem.
According to the government, the proposal
is aimed to curb the rise of criminality in Malaysia. Police data indicate
that the crime rate in Malaysia increased by 40 percent in 2006 compared
to the previous year.
The increased crime rate is being blamed
by the government on foreign workers. Even Deputy Minister of Internal
Security Fu Ah Kiow drumbeats the data that “34 per cent - or 11,900 - of
the 35,000 prisoners in the country are foreigners, many of whom are held
on remand.” (Malaysiakini, 8March 2007)
However, police data also show that only
two per cent of the crimes in Malaysia have been committed by foreign
workers. The 11,900 migrant workers were imprisoned mainly due to
Also, as the local Malaysian Trade Union
Council (MTUC) said that the number of migrant workers in prison is less
than 0.5% of the 2.6 million foreign workers in the country.
The proposal can be clearly characterized
as a throwback from the time of slavery when slaves were made to
huddle in designated slave pens.
The plan reeks of violation of the most
fundamental rights of the people as enshrined the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights including the right to mobility as well as to due process. To
treat them like chattel will place migrant workers in even more abusive
and exploitative conditions. Many foreign workers in Malaysia are
undocumented, with estimates ranging from 700,000 to about one million. As
undocumented migrants, they are already faced with the problems of low
wage, inhumane working and living conditions, lack of benefits, as well as
lack of access to basic services including health.
Local groups also stressed that the move
will heighten xenophobia among the public and will create an unfounded
atmosphere of fear. Hate crimes could even happen because of this.
Migrant workers as scapegoats for societal
The failure of the Malaysian government to
address criminality is being put on the shoulders of foreign workers.
Putting the blame on foreign workers when
host governments are at a loss on how to resolve national problems is not
only exclusive to Malaysia.
In Hong Kong (HK), for example, the
unemployment problem experienced for the past years has been rooted in the
presence of foreign domestic workers (FDWs). This line of reasoning –
despite the fact that studies made by the HK government itself state that
the market for employers of local domestic workers and FDWs are vastly
different – was used by the government to impose the levy for employers of
At the same time, a cut on the wage of
FDWs – the same amount as that of the levy for a two-year contract period
– was also implemented which prompted FDWs to declare it as unjust
In the United States, the US Patriot Act –
supposedly implemented in the name of national security – also unjustly
puts the blame of terrorist attacks in the US to foreign workers.
Aside from the fact that putting the blame
on foreign workers is cruel and unjust, what is also condemnable of such
actions is the fact that in host countries, the contribution of foreign
workers in building their current society and economic progress is
forgotten in the face of national crises.
Meanwhile, in times of economic progress,
benefits hardly tickle down to migrants.
Advocates of migrant’s rights, human
rights organizations, local people’s groups and the international
community should oppose this new proposal. Countries sending laborers to
Malaysia must also show their condemnation to this inhuman move. Posted
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© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
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