Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Abuse of migrant workers in Malaysia 'rising'

World News - November 03, 2006
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It is a sad story and one over which everyone has expressed concern, yet it continues to be told again and again.

The plight of Indonesia's overseas workers has historically been suspect. Now the latest official data seem to indicate a rise in the abuse of, mostly female, Indonesian workers in Malaysia.

"We have received more reports of abuses of Indonesian maids and workers in the last several months. Last month alone we had three abuse cases, leading to one death," the Foreign Ministry's director for Indonesian migrant worker protection, Ferry Adamhar, told The Jakarta Post here Thursday.

He said at least two cases of abuse had been reported each month this year. This is a significant increase compared to last year.

Officials point to the usual suspects for the predicament of Indonesia's migrant workers: lack of legal protection, the unpreparedness of workers to cope with foreign surroundings, unscrupulous labor companies and exploitative employees.

"Besides a lack of legal protection, most of our workers lack the necessary documents, such as a work permit and visa," Ferry said, adding that "many also misuse the regulation that allows foreign visitors to stay in Malaysia for two weeks without a visa to find a job".

The rise in the number of reported cases could also be a result of better reporting mechanisms, with the Foreign Ministry having increased the number of officials assigned to countries where many Indonesians work.

More than 400,000 Indonesians officially work in Malaysia, most employed as maids, construction workers or shop attendants.

But the unofficial number of Indonesian workers in the neighboring country, according to some estimates, could be double that figure. Many of these workers have entered Malaysia illegally and are not protected by the law.

While a combination of factors has helped create the detrimental conditions many of the migrant workers find themselves in, labor activists also blame authorities in Malaysia for the growing abuse.

According to Suaram, a leading Malaysian rights group, a civilian volunteer force established to help Malaysian police round up illegal immigrants often uses excessive force, causing serious injury to Indonesians and other foreign nationals.

The rights group said Wednesday most members of the volunteer force of more than 400,000 civilians -- known by the local acronym Rela -- were poorly trained and did not understand the basics of human rights.

The volunteers "regularly use brutal methods and excessive force while arresting migrants", Suaram was quoted as saying by AP, adding that it was "a national shame and a dangerous setback for the promotion and protection of human rights in Malaysia".

Suaram cited at least three incidents since July when suspected illegal immigrants from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar were beaten.

Most were later discovered to have valid immigration documents, it added.

It said volunteers also often forced their way into homes without warrants, destroyed private property and wrongfully detained suspects.

Suaram urged Malaysian officials to cease the use of these civilian volunteers.

Ferry said that to prevent such abuses Indonesian workers headed to Malaysia or any other country must have all the necessary documents.

"The Manpower Ministry and Immigration Office must ensure that our workers have sufficient documentation before they let them leave the country," he said.

The predicament of Indonesian workers abroad is all the more ironic since these 2.7 million workers support families in villages across the country. Migrant workers send some US$2.9 billion home each year.

A grim statistic from the Foreign Ministry highlights the dangers facing the country's migrant workers: more than 300 have died in the past 10 months.


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