Updated at 3:31 p.m. ET on 2019-12-09
As a Dec. 31 deadline to register looms, more than 111,000 undocumented migrants have voluntarily surrendered to the Malaysian Immigration Department, agreeing to leave the country and not return under its latest amnesty program, authorities said.
The largest number of participants are from Indonesia (42,279), followed by Bangladesh (30,098), India (19,997), Pakistan (5,755) and Myanmar (5,332), according to information from the department. Others are from Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and China.
“The figures are the latest number of participants who had completed all the terms that we set,” a press officer with the department, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the program, told BenarNews. “The data is broken down by countries. Other details will be released only at the end of the program.”
As of Nov. 28, a total of 111,736 undocumented migrants had registered under the B4G (Back For Good) amnesty program, which started on Aug. 1, according to the Immigration Department. It said 61,432 had overstayed their visas, while 50,304 did not possess valid travel documents for entry into Malaysia.
“One of the conditions set to participate in this program is that they must purchase a plane ticket home,” a senior officer with knowledge of the program, who also was not authorized to comment, told BenarNews.
The official said participants would not be allowed to register for the program without presenting a ticket and must return to their home countries within a month.
In addition, participants must pay a fine of 700 ringgit (U.S. $167) to qualify. Once they return to their home countries, they will be blacklisted from returning. BenarNews calculated that Malaysia had collected 78.2 million ringgit ($18.75 million) from those enrolled in the program.
Immigration sweep expected
In Bangladesh, the government ordered Biman, the national airline, to add 16 flights to Kuala Lumpur to bring back migrants who had enrolled in the amnesty program, Bangladeshi media reported.
“Biman will operate the extra flights from its responsibility of serving the greater interest of the country and its people,” State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism M. Mahbub Ali said in a news release Wednesday.
Bangladeshi Majibul Rahman was among migrants who were able to leave Malaysia at the start of the program.
“My ticket is secured and my flight is tomorrow,” he told BenarNews in August. “I am going back with my two friends who are here with me.
“Praise God for the Malaysian government for this chance to go back home.”
Another migrant, Indonesian Dewi, 19, who goes by one name, also left in August.
"I have been in Malaysia for three months and came as a visitor but overstayed, so now I want to go back," she told BenarNews, adding, "I knew about this program from a friend."
Malaysian officials have warned that as soon as the program ends, the immigration department is expected to round up undocumented migrants who refuse to leave the country voluntarily. Those who are detained could face a minimum fine of 5,000 ringgit ($1,198) and sentence of up to 12 months if convicted.
“With the Back For Good amnesty program ending on Dec. 31, we will ensure that on Jan. 1 we will go ahead with our enforcement efforts on a massive scale,” Khairul Dzaimee Daud, the department’s director general, told local media. “There will be no compromise for illegal immigrants who are caught after the program.”
Previously, the director general said the program’s aim was to reduce the influx of migrants and curb social problems including crime, the Malay Mail reported in July.
Malaysian officials have called this the final amnesty program. One that began in 2014 led to 840,000 migrants leaving the country after they paid about 400 million ringgit ($95.9 million) in fines.
An economic analyst and a human rights official, however, warned that the exodus of foreign workers could negatively affect the economy, especially in the development sector and 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous and demeaning).
The foreign workforce has been an important part of Malaysia’s economy, especially in the 3D sector because of the nature of the work and poor wages, said Barjoyai Bardai, an economist at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak.
“The foreigners are willing to work for 1,100 ringgit ($263) a month just to make ends meet,” Barjoyai told BenarNews.
“They come to Malaysia to work as hard as they can, save up and send the money back to their country. Because of this, they can adapt to the meager income, and if they are not here, there will be a huge hole to fill in 3D sector,” he said, adding the country would face shortage of workers in the construction sector.
Tenaganita, a local human rights NGO that deals with issue of migrants workers, pointed out that migrant workers who have been referred to as “illegal immigrants” by government officials play a huge role in Malaysia’s economic growth.
Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said local industries would need migrant workers in the years to come. She urged the government to treat them humanely.
“The government must play a more active role in educating the Malaysian people that migrant workers are not their enemies or the cause of their own financial or employment problems,” she told BenarNews.
Das said large-scale efforts to arrest undocumented migrants have consistently “failed to produce any beneficial results, except for venal enforcement personnel and unethical agents.”
Aminah Farid and Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.