Malaysian police not pro-migrant workers

Sunday, May 13, 2012 The Daily Star

Migrant workers in Malaysia are regularly being harassed by law enforcers and forced to pay bribes, rights activist Irene Fernandez told Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Friday.

She also cited six instances of corruption involving guest workers, reported The Malaysian Insider.

On Friday, the MACC summoned Fernandez after she had come under fire for criticising the country in an interview with Indonesian daily Jakarta Post where she claimed that Malaysia was not congenial to migrant workers.

The issue is of grave concern for Bangladesh as around 5 lakh of its nationals work in that country.

In the interview, Fernandez, executive director of rights body Tenaganita, said Malaysia had no legal framework or law to protect migrant workers. The government had also upheld the discrimination against house helps and plantation workers by excluding them from newly-issued regulation on minimum wage.

Most of the migrant workers became undocumented and hence faced troubles as their employers or sponsors had withheld their passports, she said.

The Malaysian authorities censured Fernandez for the comments. Datuk Maznah Mazlan, deputy minister for human resources, termed her remarks unethical, inaccurate and unpatriotic.

After the 90-munute interview, Fernandez told reporters, “Migrant workers are regularly confronted by law enforcement agencies, such as RELA (Malaysia People’s Volunteer Corps), who ask for their papers. But when the workers want to see their identities, they [workers] are slapped or beaten up. The workers are then frisked and their money is taken away.”

“We are unable to detect these officers since they refuse to reveal their identity. Therefore, we cannot bring out the issues of corruption on an individual level,” she said.

She also cited how police failed to rescue migrant workers despite being informed of their predicament.

Fernandez said a proper system must be established to improve the situation and ensure that the enforcement agencies acted with “more dignity”. She hoped the MACC’s intelligence branch would investigate the issues she had raised.

“I request they seriously look into the issues of human trafficking and corruption,” she added.

The rights activist pointed out that failure in setting up of an independent police complaint mechanism had led to such acts of the corruption.

Fernandez, who was once jailed for exposing the alleged poor condition of local immigration centres, also refused to apologise for her statements and demanded that the government and her critics apologise to her instead.