According to the Asian News Network, an estimated 7,000 Bangladeshi workers have been held since January
Thousands of undocumented Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia are calling on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to intervene after they were conned out of money while trying to legalize their immigration status in the country.
Malaysian police have been raiding homes and workplaces and arresting illegal foreign nationals since midnight on August 30, when the 3+1 amnesty program for illegal immigrants ended.
Under the program, illegal immigrants were to pay a RM300 fine and RM100 for a special pass that would allow them to return to their respective countries. It followed a June 30 deadline for the rehiring and relocation of foreign workers.
The director general of the Malaysian Immigration Department, Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali, said 30,000 illegals had been detained up to Monday, although he did not specify their nationalities.
“The detentions were the result of more than 10,000 operations carried out nationwide with over 100,000 foreigners examined,” Mustafar was quoted as saying by the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times.
The undocumented migrants are thought to be mostly from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Philippines.
According to the Asian News Network, an estimated 7,000 Bangladeshi workers have been held since January.
“The undocumented Bangladeshi workers left their places soon after the Malaysian authorities started the operation,” Jahangir Alam, a Bangladeshi national who has been working in Kuala Lumpur for over five years, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Most had applied through the legalization process to stay in Malaysia, but they are yet to be authorized due to getting cheated by agents and sub-agents (who were) appointed by the previous Malaysian government.
“Most of the sub-agents vanished after taking money from the workers, without updating their documents. (Now) the Bangladeshi workers are passing days and nights in hideaways fearing arrest.”
Jakir Hossain is another Bangladeshi worker who has been left fearing the worst.
“We are in deep trouble here in Malaysia,” he said. “Many of us have come to the country after selling the last piece of asset we had. Our last hope is the immediate intervention from our prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, to solve the crisis.”
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training in Bangladesh, since 1976 around one million Bangladeshi nationals have left the country to work in Malaysia with the correct immigration clearance.
However, sources in Malaysia said the figure for Bangladeshis could be far higher as many who arrived as students only became undocumented workers later.
Thousands more have travelled to the Southeast Asian country through illegal means, or from being trafficked.
According to an estimate from OvibashiKarmiUnnayan Program (OKUP), a community-based migrant’s rights organization, as many as half a million Bangladeshis are in Malaysia as undocumented workers.
OKUP Chairman Shakirul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that in order to legalize them, the previous Malaysian government appointed six outsourcing companies who later engaged numerous sub-agents to carry out the job.
“The workers don’t have any fault in this matter,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of workers have been cheated by the sub-agents. (They) have submitted papers and paid money but the sub-agents did not fulfil their duties.
“The Malay authorities were also responsible for a large number of undocumented immigrant workers in the country despite their 3+1 volunteer program. The (Bangladesh) government should address the issue with the Malaysian government.”
Shakirul Islam also sought the intervention of the prime minister.
“If the undocumented workers are forced to come back to the country, there will be immense loss for them,” he warned. “They will have to go abroad for work again, selling their assets to the benefit of the recruiting agencies.”
Dr Namita Halder, secretary of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, said the Bangladesh government can take steps if the workers come forward to seek assistance.
“Why are the undocumented workers going to the agents instead of coming to the High Commission (in Kuala Lumpur)? If they go to agents, the trouble will increase,” she said.
Dr Halder said the figure of undocumented workers in Malaysia is “very low”, as most of them had already returned home.
“There are still some people who are involved in different criminal activities. Steps would be taken against them.”