Cambodian workers continue to fear arrest and deportation amid an ongoing crackdown on undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia, with local media reporting that 2,000 migrants have been arrested since the beginning of the month as of yesterday.
Under the so-called rehiring system, introduced by the Malaysian government on February 15 to expedite the process of getting undocumented workers legal status, employers could register employees for an upfront payment of about $140, with additional fees later on.
Nonetheless, according to Sri M Ramachelvam, chairperson of the Migrants Refugees and Immigration Committee of the Bar Council of Malaysia, many employers failed to do so before the programme ended June 30.
“Many of the migrant workers are not able to be legalised as their employers have failed to register them and the migrant workers are left in a very precarious position,” he said. “The migrant workers should not be victimised for the failure of the employers to legalise them.”
According to Ramachelvam, more than a million undocumented migrants work in Malaysia and just 161,000 had registered before the deadline.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Chum Sounry said that the Malaysian authorities had yet to provide the ministry with numbers of arrested Cambodians.
According to Soma Sundram, education officer of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, despite efforts to ease the legalisation process, there are still issues with the law. One problem, he said, is a stipulation that says that if a worker flees an employer, even in cases of abuse, they cannot then be registered as a legal migrant worker.
Because of this, one 35-year-old domestic worker, who says her employer mistreats her, said yesterday that she is afraid to leave her current job.
“My employer doesn’t treat me well. Sometimes she shouts at me and blames me a lot, while I work very hard and long hours,” she said.
“I don’t want to work with them, but I can’t leave . . . because I’ll become illegal if I change employers, and I paid a lot of money to be legal.”
She explained that she had to pay about $1,630 for a work permit and one-year visa, while earning about $230 a month.
On top of this, migrants face up to $800 in passport renewal fees in Malaysia, The Post revealed last month.
Another worker, Meas Sim, said he too fears arrest.
“I am so afraid that authorities could find me, as it’s not clear to me whether I’m legal or illegal, because I didn’t get a thumbprint in my passport,” he said. He added that his passport and those belonging to his 20 Cambodian co-workers at a garment factory are kept by their employers, which is illegal under the Malaysia Passport Act.
Sim said his employer has now instructed the workers not to leave the factory or sleeping quarters. “We’re not allowed to go anywhere else beside the dormitory and factory,” Sim said.