Monday, January 31, 2005

Mass Expulsions In Malaysia

A week ago I posted this on the situation facing undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia. Today is the day that these workers - mostly from Indonesia or the Philippines - voluntarily leave the country or face arrest and punishment. According to reports in the local press there has not been a last-minute rush at the ports. Rather many migrant workers appear to be leaving their squatter homes and searching for "safe havens".

At issue is not simply that there is barely a humane and rational debate about the place of migrant workers in Malaysian society - workers who have done much to build the so-called developmental miracle. Even more indicative of official authoritarianism are the strongarmed tactics that the government is threatening. The BBC reports, accurately, that "
armed raiding parties will begin rounding up illicit foreign workers and their employers after a three-month amnesty. Those caught and found guilty of immigration offences risk being fined, whipped and imprisoned". It's estimated that there's anything between 800,000 and 1.5 million undocumented workers in Malaysia - so the operation will be on a vast scale. The scope for abuse is obvious. The crackdown is due to begin tomorrow.

Amnesty International Malaysia has already tabled its disquiet in a thorough report issued last month. Based on the experiences of earlier expulsions, Amnesty is "concerned that the government’s current mass deportation plans may result in serious human rights violations". The report also points to the "inhuman or degrading detention conditions prior to and during deportation" which violate all international norms. Amnesty concludes its findings with a list of eight policy recommendations to the Malaysian government. They are both modest and humane. They should be the starting-point for any serious debate on the future of migrant workers and the protection of their fundamental rights. And Malaysian civil society needs to be shaken out of its complacent torpor.

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