Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Rights group wants migrants released now, immigration probe halted

Rights group wants migrants released now, immigration probe halted

Human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has urged the government to immediately release 171 migrant workers from Bangladesh, who were taken into custody when they attempted to lodge a police report against their agent.

The migrant workers have been held under immigration custody since Dec 20.

LFL director Zaid Malek said it was appalling that the migrants were arrested en masse to be investigated for allegedly overstaying when the police had acknowledged that they entered the country legally and were merely trying to file a police report against their agent.

Should the migrants have overstayed, Zaid asserted it was “by design of unscrupulous agents for the purpose of exploitation”.

Therefore, he called on Putrajaya to suspend any investigation under the Immigration Act for allegedly overstaying under the Immigration Act 1959/63.

“Whilst the government has stated that they will investigate the agent responsible for putting the 171 Bangladeshis in this predicament, this alone is not enough.

“It is obvious from the available facts that the migrants have been duped and are now stranded in our country without the jobs they were promised,” he said in a statement today.

LFL director Zaid Malek

Zaid also stressed that the migrants in question are victims of trafficking, as per Section 2 of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 (Atipsom) and, thus, cannot be detained in immigration depots or charged for offences.

“In fact, they (the migrants) should already be brought to the magistrate within 24 hours of their arrest to be given an interim protection order and be placed instead in a designated place of refuge in accordance with Section 44 of Atipsom.

“There have been no reports that this process has been undertaken by the authorities.

“The failure to initiate the process of obtaining a protection order for the migrants obstructs them from being recognised as trafficked persons and to be afforded immunity from criminal prosecution for overstaying as dictated by Section 25 of Atipsom,” he said.

Case tarnishes justice system

He then asserted that the continued detention and investigation of the migrants for an offence under Section 15(1)(c) of the Immigration Act have made a mockery of the country’s justice system.

“Exploitative agents remain free whilst victims are detained and treated like criminals without due process.

“The Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Mapo) must ensure that these migrants, who are victims of trafficking, are accorded the full protection provided by Atipsom.”

On Monday (Dec 25), Kota Tinggi district police chief Hussin Zamora reportedly confirmed the arrests of the workers.

Hussin said the workers were legally brought into Malaysia but their agent has yet to provide them with work after three months.

“So, the Bangladeshi nationals decided to walk to the Bayu Damai police station, about 10km away from their accommodation, to lodge a police report on Dec 20,” he was quoted as saying by The Star.

However, a police report was lodged against the workers based on a video of them walking together.

Hussin also said the workers did not manage to lodge their police report.

Chorus of condemnation

Several hours after Hussin’s confirmation, Human Resources Minister Steven Sim said an agency involved in recruiting the migrant workers but failed to find them employment after three months here would be summoned by the ministry.

Human Resources Minister Steven Sim

Sim told Malaysiakini that further investigations will be conducted this week on the agency responsible.

At the same time, Sim said he will be meeting Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to improve policies related to migrant workers.

Meanwhile, Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said has called for immediate investigations against those who duped the migrant workers.

Azalina, who is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), said violation of human rights should not be tolerated, including in the business sector.

The incident also caught the attention of two former Pakatan Harapan MPs who urged immigration authorities not to criminalise the workers.

Former Klang MP Charles Santiago, in a posting on X, urged authorities against going after the workers whom he described as victims.

Meanwhile, former Sungai Buloh MP R Sivarasa said MACC should immediately investigate how the agent obtained the Immigration Department’s approval to bring in workers when there were no jobs available.

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