Foreign worker to sue cops for detaining and prosecuting him

Many migrant workers registered under the rehiring programme have been detained although pressure groups have been able to negotiate the release of a number of them.

PETALING JAYA: A Bangladeshi national is suing the police for unlawful detention and malicious prosecution, and a civic group that fights human trafficking is applauding him.

Selangor Anti-Human Trafficking Council’s Abdul Aziz Ismail welcomed the court action as a means of “knocking some sense” into the government.

Md Moajjem Hossain, who is in his 30s, claims that he was in Malaysia legally when he was arrested last Oct 1. According to his lawyer, the arrest was made when his passport was still valid and after he had applied for registration under the home ministry’s rehiring programme for illegal foreign workers.

In an interview with FMT, a task force member of the Selangor Anti-Human Trafficking Council, Abdul Aziz Ismail, welcomed the court action as a means of “knocking some sense” into the government.

The suit is due for case management this Jan 15.

Hossain was detained for two weeks before being charged with offences against Malaysia’s immigration regulations. He claims the authorities kept him in detention even after his employers had produced documents proving his innocence.

He was freed by a magistrate’s court after his lawyer cited the case of another migrant worker whose working permit had expired but who, having registered under the rehiring programme, was allowed to stay in the country pending the completion of the registration process.

According to Abdul Aziz, Hossain’s case is not unique. He said many migrant workers registered under the rehiring programme had been detained although pressure groups had been able to negotiate the release of a number of them.

More than 700,000 signed up for the programme, but only slightly more than 110,000 were successfully registered by last August.

“What will happen to the rest of them?” Abdul Aziz said. “They have been detained and arrested, but they have also paid an exorbitant amount to be legalised. Their status is hanging. They have no idea if they will be rehired.”

A worker has to pay RM1,134.52 to apply for registration, and Abdul Aziz reckons that the total collection is more than RM845 million.

He said it made no sense to declare someone as an illegal immigrant after taking money from him. “It’s daylight robbery,” he remarked.

He said the procedure for registration was all wrong. “By right, it should first be determined whether a worker is qualified to be rehired. If he is, only then should he be allowed to register under the programme. But that is not the case now. Hence, you end up with so many workers whose status is unclear even after they have paid so much.”

Abdul Aziz criticised the Pakatan Harapan government as being no better than Barisan Nasional in its handling of the foreign worker issue.

Referring to the independent committee on foreign worker management that was set up about four months ago, he said most of its members had no familiarity with the issue.

He said the government should have consulted pressure groups like his because they had “all the experience” to deal with the matter.

“We have lost trust in both sides of the political divide,” he said. “The only option is to knock some sense into them through the courts. The courts are the only party we can trust. They can come up with case laws for us to lean on.”

He questioned whether the government had considered the cost of being too strict against foreign workers.

Citing figures given by the immigration director-general, he reckoned that authorities carried out an average of 40 raids a day against migrant workers. “One operation costs about RM30,000. That is RM120,000 a day. Within a year, the country can easily lose RM40 million or more.”

He also said it was wrong to punish workers who overstayed when the fault lay with their employers.

“The employers are the ones responsible for the extension or renewal of their visas. So, why must the workers be punished for a crime they never committed?”

He said the country was in sore need of structural reform on the issues surrounding migrant workers and he called for a policy that would protect the workers’ human rights as well as the interests of the nation.

Such a policy should be formulated in consultation with economic and security experts as well as workers’ representatives, he added.