Monday, February 27, 2006

Umma not adequate for migrants in Malaysia

ACHR REVIEW, Embargoed for: 22 February 2006, Review: 113/06,
The recovery of dead bodies of five migrant workers from a lake in Selayang area of Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur from 11 to 13 February 2006 following a raid by the immigration officials belonging to the notorious "RELA," Malaysia's controversial baton-wielding volunteer reserve, once again exposes continuing gross violations of the rights of the migrant workers in Malaysia. Two of the five dead bodies were recovered from the lake - a flooded open cast-mining pit late on 11 February 2006 and the rest three on 12 and 13 February 2006.
According to eyewitnesses, in the early hours of 11 February 2006, the immigration department conducted a raid. The officers jumped from their trucks and headed for Selayang's large open market where many of the migrants work. Seeing the "Rela" personnel arrive, Hamzan Ali Abdullah, a Burmese Muslim migrant worker, who works in the market, ran away and hid behind the undergrowth near the lake. As he hid he heard screams and cries of migrant workers for "help". He could not see the Rela officers due to the darkness but he had heard them speaking in Malay, "Yes, there were, there were. Come out come out, if you run away we will kill you."
The Malaysian government disputed suggestions that anybody died during the raid or as a result of the raid. It issued a statement rejecting the migrants' account of events stating, "At 2 am on 11 February 2006 Rela carried out an operation to check documents of foreign workers in the open market at Selayang. Nothing serious happened and the operation went smoothly. However, many illegal immigrants were seen running away."
Autopsy on four dead bodies was conducted on 13 February 2006. One of the dead bodies identified to be of Zaw Oo, a Burmese migrant, was not taken to hospital and was buried quickly instead. While the bodies showed no signs of stab or slash wounds, a doctor said the bodies were too badly decomposed to be able to tell whether they had been beaten with batons, such as those carried by Rela volunteers.
The latest death of migrant workers is not an isolated incident of atrocities against migrant workers by the immigration authorities in Malaysia. There have been consistent reports of torture and other abuses against the migrant workers periodically which have been facilitated by country's legal and administrative system. The Immigration Act of Malaysia allows indefinite detention pending deportation. Undocumented persons in Malaysia irrespective of whether they are alleged illegal migrant workers or asylum seekers can face up to a five-year jail sentence, a RM10,000 (US$2,600) fine and six strokes of the cane under the Immigration Act, which was amended in 2002. About 75% of the prisoners in Malaysia are foreigners. About 18,000 illegal migrant workers were whipped in 2003.
The intensity of abuses against the undocumented migrant workers and the lack of training, command and accountability of the RELA and other immigration officials have been clearly proven by the case of illegal detention of a Malaysian citizen, 23-year-old Mohd Nazri Harris from Johor at the temporary detention centre for illegal immigrants for about two months since 23 September 2005 by the Immigration Department. Mr. Harris' illegal detention came to the notice of the authorities only after the daily Borneo Post carried his story. He was released on 18 November 2005 only after Suhakam Commissioner Prof Datuk Hamdan Adnan intervened after his meeting with Mr. Nazri Harris on his visit to the centre on 17 November 2005 to investigate a rioting incident a day earlier. Although previously Nazri had produced his birth certificate to show that he is from Kota Tinggi, Johor, immigration officers refused to let him go.
Atrocities against the migrant workers were perpetrated even when the amnesty was operative during November 2004 to February 2005. The "Operation Tegas" which was launched from 1 March 2005 targeted only undocumented migrant workers and not employers or recruiting agents. Many employers, especially the contractors in the construction industry, in the small and medium industries and employers of domestic workers do not renew the work permits and thus the labourers become undocumented. If workers, especially domestic workers, decide to run away to escape from abuse and violence they have their work permits cancelled and thus become undocumented. The Immigration Department refuses to issue legal documents to migrants with pending court cases. The workers are only issued special passes for a maximum of three months, though it takes at least six months to settle a case through the court process. During the period of hearing, they are not allowed to have new work permit and remain under threat of arrest and imprisonment. They too become undocumented migrants.
Asian Centre for Human Rights has maintained that the crackdown is unlikely to address the problem of illegal migrants in Malaysia unless it addresses the primary concern - the willingness of many Malaysian employers to break the law and employ foreign staff without work permits. In November 2005, Home Affairs Minister Datuk Azmi Khalid stated that only four out of 128 pending cases of employers charged with hiring illegal immigrants had been dealt with since 2003.
Malaysia needs foreign workers and around 11% of their workforces are foreigners. However, Malaysia's policy has been influenced by "Umma" or Islamic brotherhood rather than the rule of law. In February 2005, Minister of Home Affairs Datuk Azmi Khalid announced that Rohingyas would, in addition to having been recognised as refugees, be permitted to work in Malaysia and be given job-related training for that purpose. He also said that the Rohingya children would be provided with education. But over twenty Rohingya refugees were deported to Burma in 2005. Malaysia also allowed 131 Thai Muslims, who fled from Narathiwat province of Southern Thailand in August 2005 to stay in the country but their refugee status was caught in the diplomatic standoff between Bangkok and Kualampur.
So long Malaysia does not develop laws based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination in conformity with international human rights standards for protection of migrant workers, "Umma" is inadequate and the rights of the vulnerable migrant workers will be trampled upon. The recovery of dead bodies of five migrant workers from a lake in Selayang area of Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur is a clear testimony.
Malaysia's mystery migrant deaths
Jonathan Kent, BBC News, Kuala Lumpur,
Walk along the streets of Selayang, a suburb of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, and the phone shops tell you everything you need to know about the population. The shops sell discount international phone cards, posting the rates to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. Selayang is an area where the capital's migrant workers live, legally and illegally. For years Malaysia has been trying to contain a burgeoning number of illegal migrant workers.
In late 2004 it declared an amnesty allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants - mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines - to leave before launching a major operation to deport the rest in March last year. But illegal immigrants still make up a large population - hundreds of thousands of people, according to estimates - and the economy depends heavily on foreign workers. And they live largely anonymously, so anonymously that when five bodies were dragged out of a small lake in Selayang this week it did not merit a single mention in the media. Exactly how the five died is unclear. There are conflicting accounts from migrants living in the area and from the authorities.
But what is known is that in the early hours of last Saturday, 11 February, an immigration raid took place. The officers jumped from their trucks and made for Selayang's large open market, where many of the migrants work. Mohammad Shaiku, a Burmese with a work permit, was working that night. "I was inside the market," he said. "The police arrived after two that night and rounded up people. And after that some people ran off to the lake and after that I think the police beat them." I asked him whether it was the regular police, polis biasa, who carried out the raid, or Rela, Malaysia's controversial baton-wielding volunteer reserve, which was mobilised last March to tackle the immigration issue. "Rela," he said. "Rela, Rela." The use of Rela has been criticised by Western human rights groups who say its members are not properly trained or supervised.
Hamzan Ali Abdullah was another Burmese Muslim working at the market. I asked him whether he had seen the authorities arrive. "Yes we did see them and we had to run and hide very, very quickly," he said. He ran out the back of the market, through a nearby street and across the road to a lake - a flooded open cast-mining pit - about five minutes away at a jog. There he says he hid in the undergrowth and the dark. And through the blackness he heard screams. "We heard they were crying in their own languages, and some in Burmese crying 'help help'." He could not see the Rela officers in the darkness so I asked whether he had heard them speaking Malay. "Yes, there were, there were," he said. "The police were shouting: 'Come out come out, if you run away we will kill you'. "Those caught in their hands were beaten by two or three policemen. They treated them like cattle. Their voices were very haughty and arrogant. Their voices were like soldiers and policemen." The first of the bodies was found later that day.
Malaysia's Interior Ministry has said that police have confirmed the discovery of two bodies. But according to several local witnesses, five bodies were dragged from the lake over the days that followed. One was that of 29-year-old Thant Zaw Oo, the uncle of Mohammad Shaiku's wife. Mr Mohammad said the body showed signs of having been beaten. "It was half in the water and I saw his teeth, his two front teeth were missing". Black blood [was visible] in his mouth and on wounds on his head and neck, Mr Mohammad said.
Government denial
Other workers at the market also said Rela volunteers appeared angry and had chased migrants towards the lake. They produced pictures of Zaw Oo's funeral and of another dead man, who they said was a Sikh, being pulled from the water.“Nothing serious happened and the operation went smoothly” Malaysian government on the Rela crackdown Kuala Lumpur Hospital confirmed that four bodies had been taken there from the lake in Selayang. Zaw Oo's body was not taken to hospital, being buried quickly instead. While they showed no signs of stab or slash wounds, a doctor said the bodies were too badly decomposed to be able to tell whether they had been beaten with batons, such as those carried by Rela volunteers. Malaysia's Interior Ministry firmly disputes suggestions anybody died during the raid. It issued a statement rejecting the migrants' account of events.
"At 2am on 11 February Rela carried out an operation to check documents of foreign workers in the open market at Selayang," it said. "Nothing serious happened and the operation went smoothly. However many illegal immigrants were seen running away." The ministry statement referred to two bodies on which post mortems had been carried out and which it said exonerated the Rela team. "Based on the post mortem report made on 13 February 2006 the deaths occurred about three to five days previously, meaning on 10 February at the latest, proving that these deaths have nothing to do with the Rela operation on 11 February," the statement said. Human rights groups say the controversy about the incident shows that the government should not be using semi-trained Rela volunteers for such tasks. "Malaysia should withdraw this authorisation and reserve immigration enforcement for trained government authorities," Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued from New York. Amnesty International [AI] in London wanted to see tighter controls. "AI continues to have grave concerns about the training, command and control supervision, and accountability of Rela "volunteers" and Immigration Department officers," it said. Malaysia's civil liberties groups have taken a similar line.
Off the record, government sources said that Selayang was an area notorious for both organised crime and for gang warfare between rival foreign gangs. The same sources have suggested that the five may have been victims of such clashes - which does not seem to square with the Interior Ministry's statement that post mortem results showed no sign of any violence. None of which leaves anyone any clearer about why five bodies turned up in a short space of time in a small lake on the fringes of the capital. Still, Malaysians are certainly worried about crime and blame much of it on foreign workers. The economy may rely on them but there is limited tolerance for immigrants, illegal or even legal. And five foreigners can turn up dead in one small area and it does not merit a single mention anywhere in the Malaysian press. Nor did reports widely circulated last year that two migrants died after being struck by a Rela truck, also in Selayang. From time to time there the deaths of migrants workers does make the news, but it is written small, on the inside pages.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

THX for sharing