A lonely Raya for migrants, with passports kept by bosses

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PETALING JAYA: While most Malaysians are back in their hometowns celebrating Raya with their loved ones, there is a group of Muslims who do not have this luxury.

They are the ones whose only opportunity to feel the festive atmosphere is when they go for mass prayers early Raya morning.

A Bangladeshi working at a construction site in Kuala Lumpur said this year would be his second Raya without his wife and children.

“The tickets to go back home, and then to return here are just too expensive. Besides, I only get the two public holidays off and my passport is kept by my employers.

“They won’t give it back to me until my work is done.

“Of course, I miss my family, but I have no choice. There are not enough jobs in Bangladesh and the salary there is too low.

“If I don’t come here, my son would have to quit school and work. He’s only 14,” said the 36-year-old man who only wanted to be known as Kamal.

His predicament is similar to that faced by an Indonesian cleaning lady who preferred to be called Kak Sunar.

Speaking to FMT, she said most of the money she earned from cleaning houses around the city goes to her family which lives in a small village in Surabaya.

“I have three children, two girls and one boy. One of them is about to go to university, the others are still in school. I have to work hard so they can be successful.

“I haven’t celebrated Raya with them for four years as it takes a lot of money to go back.

“And some of my agency’s customers need cleaners to clean their houses before and after their friends and family visit them.

“So my agent doesn’t allow us to go back. But it’s okay. Maybe I can make extra money so my children will get to celebrate the holiday just like others in the village.”

Another cleaner FMT spoke to said the same. Her passport is with her agent and for almost two years, she was not allowed to go see her family back in Indonesia.

Despite her longing to be with her family this Raya, she remained positive and said at least she gets to speak to them on the phone.

“Just like last year, they will wish me Selamat Hari Raya, tell me how their celebration is like, and how they are waiting for the day I can come back and join them.

“My son is working while studying so he can save enough money to visit me here. So that makes me feel a little less sad, especially when I see others with their family, celebrating and enjoying Raya with each other.

“It’s okay, that’s life isn’t it? There are always some challenges you have to face. You just have to be strong and wait for the day when luck is finally on your side.”

Recently, Abby McGill, the campaign director for the International Labor Rights Forum, said Malaysia has the fourth-largest migrant worker population in the world, and its three million to six million foreign workers are “all vulnerable to exploitation in a variety of industries”.

The United States of America’s State Department has also noted that passport confiscation was “widespread and generally unpunished”.