Address the root causes of the problem — Joseph Paul Maliamauv

Last Updated on June 11, 2018, 7:04 p.m.

JUNE 4 — The Director General of the Immigration Department, Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali  has announced, yet again, another plan, Ops Mega 3.0 which will seek to “flush out” (sic) illegal immigrants nationwide, starting  July 1, 2018.  Unfortunately, this announcement only serves to portray the Immigration Departmnent in poor light.

“Illegal immigrants” whose only “crime” is not being in possession of valid documents, are very often simply victims of a poorly conceived and ineptly implemented system.  They are human beings, and it is unkind of Mustafar to use terms such as ‘flush out” -  when referring to migrant workers, documented or otherwise, who have contributed so much to our economy and standard of living, as if referring to vermin or pests.

Operations of this nature are nothing new, and over the years, the results have been predictably disastrous and tragic for thousands of migrant workers who lost their money, freedom, and livelihood as a result of an opaque, convoluted and  corruption-ridden system for registering and rehiring migrant workers. Almost exactly a year ago, on June 30,2017, Mustafar declared, in the midst of chaotic scenes, as thousands of undocumented migrant workers, thronged the immigration offices to beat the deadline for registration before immigration authorities started “rounding up” “illegal” migrant workers, "We are going all out to arrest, fine and deport them back to their home countries. No more mercy." (The Star /Asia News Network) 

One year on, nothing has changed; agents still continued to offer rehiring services, at exorbitant fees (reportedly about RM7000 per person), although officially the rehiring process had ceased. Thousands of migrant workers lost hundreds of thousands of Ringgit and often their travel documents as well, to unscrupulous agents; it is difficult to believe that these agents operated without the active participation of immigration personnel.Many hapless employers too have been victims of these fraudsters operating under a thin veil of legitimacy conferred by the immigration department. Even a year ago, Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar Akbar declared that the Immigration Department should look into why middlemen are being used during the hiring process of foreign workers. (Asia News Nework July 5 2917). Unfortunately, until today, middle-men are still very much part of the system.

The Director General of Immigration is rightly concerned about the uncontrolled influx of undocumented migrant workers into the country, but he should realize that repeating the same flawed measures each year is unlikely to result in any positiveout come. Instead, it would be more beneficial if he engaged with people and civil society organisations that have been working directly with migrant workers to first understand the root causes of the problem and then formulate a practical plan that is humane, equitable and respectful of human rights, to manage the situation of migrant workers in our country.

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