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Malaysian amnesty for the undocumented

Malaysia has launched a six-month amnesty for undocumented migrant workers that could allow many Cambodians to register for legal employment, though rights groups have said the implementation has been opaque and contradictory.

Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, deputy chief of mission at the Malaysian Embassy in Cambodia, said yesterday the purpose of the scheme, announced Monday, was two-fold; to crack down on illegal uses of labour and provide unregistered migrants access to protection. “If they are not registered they are prone to be used by the human trafficking syndicates,” he said.

After registering, both documented and undocumented migrant workers can apply for longer-term positions. A labour pool would also be established to disperse them into suitable positions. Those seeking registration were not required to pay fees, he said, and undocumented migrant workers who didn’t register in time would be deported without punishment.

He added workers could only register at local branches of the immigration department and said the government was closely monitoring anyone trying to extort migrants by acting as a broker for the scheme.

But Irene Fernandez, director of the Malaysia-based rights group Tenaganita, said the government had deviated from the process originally outlined and called for an immediate halt to the scheme yesterday.

“They said they are going to appoint agents that assist in the registrations. They have 327 agents, many of them whom are the crooks that have made a lot of the problems,” she said.

Migrants are being charged 300 ringgit (US$101) by agents and 35 ringgit by immigration officials for medical checks, a biometric fingerprint and other administrative costs, Fernandez said. Applicants would eventually have to pay thousands of ringgit to work after the amnesty has finished, she added.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, questioned yesterday whether the scheme would provide real protection to migrant workers and stop their exploitation by authorities.

“Well in Malaysia, it’s so opaque, it’s so hard to find out what’s actually going on that you never really find out until it comes out,” he said.

There are about two million registered migrant workers in Malaysia and an estimated one and a half million unregistered workers.

A total of 49,677 Cambodians were registered migrant workers in Malaysia in 2010, according to Malaysian immigration figures.

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