Bangladeshis and Indonesians topped an updated list of detained undocumented workers as Malaysian authorities announced Wednesday that they had swept up more than 5,000 foreigners in a crackdown on illegal immigration since July 1.
Malaysia launched the nationwide raids a day after the government’s deadline for foreign workers to register with immigration authorities expired.
“A total of 17,955 people have been screened and, as a result, 5,065 illegal immigrants from various countries have been arrested,” Mustafar Ali, director-general of the immigration department, told reporters.
The arrested immigrants include 1,520 from Bangladesh, 1,476 from Indonesia, 429 from Myanmar, 285 from Vietnam, 206 from Thailand and 261 from the Philippines, Mustafar said.
He said those raids also led to the arrest of 108 employers, while 367 people have been notified to appear in court.
“Strict actions will be taken on employers and undocumented workers caught in this operation,” he said.
Many of the detainees have been charged in courts and some have been sentenced to jail for several months, officials said. The arrested employers were charged in courts and allowed to post bail.
Malaysia, whose population is 32 million, has 2 million legally registered foreign workers and a similar number of undocumented immigrants, according to non-governmental organizations.
Those without valid papers mostly work in what locals describe as “3D” – dangerous, difficult and dirty – jobs in construction, plantations and factories.
Southeast Asia’s third biggest economy after Indonesia and Thailand, Malaysia became a popular destination for migrant workers after it posted robust economic growth in the past few years.
As the country experienced a surge in illegal immigration, it implemented a law on July 1, 2016, requiring a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 ringgit (U.S. $233) in most cities and about 920 ringgit ($214) in Sabah and Sarawak – for local and foreign workers.
Meeting diplomatic officials
Immigration officials said they had taken steps to inform foreigners about the registration program by meeting with Bangladeshi, Indian, Indonesian and Nepalese embassy officials in recent weeks.
“The initiative taken was to explain efforts being taken, including measures that should be taken by employers and workers after the end of the E-Card (Enforcement Card) registration, including the issuance of travel document and the completion of the rehiring process,” Mustafar said.
The rehiring program is a government initiative for former undocumented workers to apply for work permits in order to meet demands in specific sectors.
Mustafar urged employers who had failed to meet the registration deadline to send their workers through the Voluntary Deportation Program to avoid legal action.
“Through this program, illegal immigrants could head back to their country in an orderly manner and in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that, since January, about 125,000 illegal immigrants had taken advantage of the program and returned to their home countries.
In response to Malaysia’s widespread immigration raids, Southeast Asian lawmakers issued a statement two weeks ago expressing concern about the crackdown and local reports that more than 100 people, mostly from Myanmar, had died in the past two years in Malaysian immigration detention centers.
The lawmakers belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said little had been done to alleviate the plight of detained immigrants despite Malaysia’s pledge to investigate reports of poor living conditions for detainees.