Same old plan to tackle issue of undocumented migrants won’t work, says group

Tenaganita says the number of undocumented migrants continues to increase every year despite efforts to ‘flush’ them out.

PETALING JAYA: Migrant rights group Tenaganita has called for a more comprehensive approach to tackle the issue of undocumented persons in Malaysia, saying that despite efforts to “flush” them out, their numbers continue to increase every year.

Acknowledging that the presence of millions of undocumented migrants is an issue that must be addressed, it said a truly holistic effort is needed involving government agencies and ministries, stakeholders and experts who could provide the necessary insights and resources.

“The government has made several attempts to address this issue over the years, primarily focusing on crackdowns and raids.

“While the general population of PATI (undocumented migrants) also includes individuals who reside in the country not as migrants, refugees or asylum seekers, it has been noted that the targets have especially been focused on these groups.

‘To continue with this approach would only result in ‘skimming from the top’ of the issue, instead of focusing on the root of the problem and nipping it at the bud,” it said in a statement today.

Tenaganita said it must be acknowledged that a majority of undocumented migrants in Malaysia enter the country through legal means and with proper documents.

However, due to fraudulent activities and corrupt practices, a high number of them become undocumented when their permits are renewed.

“Without enforcement against the perpetrators who exploit the system and fuel the growing population of the undocumented, we can expect the issue to persist time and time again,” it said.

Tenaganita said a more holistic approach would incorporate a thorough attempt at rooting out these perpetrators, and looking at comprehensive efforts to clean up the enforcement agencies, in line with the promises of the government to fight corruption.

It also said that undocumented people should not be classified as illegals.

“No human being should ever be deemed illegal, as to lead a life of dignity is a basic human right,” it said.

The statement came in the wake of an announcement by the home ministry that it was formulating a holistic enforcement plan to address the influx of undocumented persons.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the plan was aimed at addressing the influx of PATI and would involve strategic cooperation among many relevant ministries and agencies.

“The objective of the plan is to create an uncomfortable ecosystem for PATI to continue living their lives here by empowering the enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities as well as by enhancing strategic cooperation and public awareness,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Tenaganita executive director Glorene A Das said there was still confusion as to whether PATI constituted immigrants without permits or foreign workers without permits.

“Not all illegal immigrants are workers. There are refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and undocumented persons,” she told FMT.

Glorene said that while a large number of undocumented persons enter the country through regular channels using valid documents, they become undocumented due to being cheated and swindled by recruitment agents, contractors and sometimes by employers.

“Many foreign workers are deemed as illegal immigrants, or PATI, through no fault of theirs.

“They end up being undocumented because they are victims of trafficking. They were cheated with false promises and brought into the country via tourist visas. Most fall into deception by agents and syndicates who provide false advice or promises about obtaining work permits and employment here

“They are many domestic workers in the cleaning services who end up in such situations along with those who work in various other sectors,” she said.

Glorene said the rehiring and re-regularisation programmes of immigrant workers in the past had been complete failures, leaving millions of workers in a dilemma.

“It turned out to become a privatised process for profiteering from workers and their families.

“A huge number of employers are also keen on employing undocumented workers because of less accountability and responsibility.

“Another reason for the influx of illegal immigrants is corruption that is so embedded within this system. This is one of the main causes for this situation.

“Corruption and inefficiency within border enforcement agencies add to the problems faced by migrant workers.”

Executive director of North-South Initiative Adrian Pereira said the home ministry must solve the root causes of the problem – trafficking and a corrupt labour recruitment system.

“There has been no consultation with migrant rights groups and hence the ministry cannot call this a ‘holistic solution’ if the process is not consultative.

“Arrest and detentions have proven to be a waste of taxpayers’ money and do not solve the problem,” he said.

Adrian said the problem was compounded by the fact that Malaysia did not have a national comprehensive policy on migrant labour.

“And as the issue is complex, without such a policy, we are merely firefighting, hence the problem continues till today,” he said.