PETALING JAYA: Frustrated with the poor response from the Malaysian authorities over the plight of hundreds of Bangladeshi workers who are allegedly struggling in debt bondage and without jobs in the country, a migrant rights activist has referred the matter to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Andy Hall has written to the OHCHR, which is a body under the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, where he described the workers’ situation as “dire”.
He provided details of their poor living conditions including cramped quarters, poor sanitation, limited food and how they became indebted due to exorbitant recruitment costs during the past 18 months or more.
Hall had also sent the documented complaints to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Slavery, Trafficking, Migrants, Poverty and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and Pia Oberoi, the senior adviser on migration and human rights for Asia Pacific.
Hall focused on the Malaysian government’s admission that there was currently an excess of about 250,000 Bangladeshi workers in the country.
“Based on the case studies and correspondence with the Malaysian authorities, I would like to urgently request the UNHRC to invoke the special procedures of the OHCHR to resolve the situation in Malaysia.
“The government has admitted that there is an excess of around 250,000 workers in Malaysia, which has resulted in systematic forced labour, modern slavery and debt bondage,” he said.
Hall said the onus was on the government to explain how such a situation could have occurred in the first place, adding that if the applicants for migrant workers had been bona fide, there should not be excess workers in the country.
Recently, home minister Saifuddin Nasution said relaxing regulations on the hiring of migrant workforce and the recalibration exercise led to an excess of over 250,000 foreign workers in the manufacturing and service sectors.
Citing one of the documented cases, Hall said it involved 400 Bangladeshi workers who were allegedly in a grave situation with no proper lodging and food.
He said they were allegedly living in cramped conditions and were reportedly facing health issues.
“There are about 14 workers crammed into one room. I have received videos from this group. The agents who brought them here gave them RM200 each which they are using to buy food. It will not last them for long,” he said.
Hall said the workers should receive their full wages in line with the signed contracts and they should be provided with other related support.
He said the workers were living in fear as they lacked proper documents which made it risky for them to venture outside to access essential services.
“Leaving workers in this condition is unacceptable both on the part of brokers, employers and the Malaysian government.”
FMT has reached out to the OHCHR, the Malaysian labour department and the Bangladeshi high commission for comment.