More than 1,500 migrants, including Cambodian workers, had been arrested in Malaysia as of Tuesday following the launch of a new crackdown on undocumented migrants at the start of July.
Irene Xavier, coordinator of the network Committee for Asian Women, said Malaysian police are “targeting those without work permits and passports”.
The arrests were preceded by a monthslong “rehiring programme”, which facilitated the legalisation of undocumented workers by helping them to get correct documents. Upon expiration of the programme on June 30, the government began its crackdown.
Once arrested, migrant workers are held in detention “until they’re able to get a ticket” back home, Xavier said. “Some workers have said that they’ve been in there for a couple of years, and some had even given birth to children in detention.”
Xavier said it was easy for workers to become undocumented – for example when abused migrants leave an employer who is holding their documents.
The Post uncovered last month that Cambodian migrants face burdensome fees when trying to renew passports, with agencies often asking for nearly $1,000.
Glorene Das, executive director of Malaysian human rights organisation Tenaganita, said that 28 employers and more than 1,500 undocumented migrants – mainly from Bangladesh, but also from Cambodia – had been arrested on Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s unfair for migrants to bear the brunt when employers are equally responsible [to get documentation],” she said. “They need to stop criminalising them.”
Mohammad Elshetri, project coordinator at rights NGO Suaram, said that elections in 2018 may explain the move.
“There have been some complaints about migrants now, so the government might use this operation to gain support,” he said.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached.