Monday, August 21, 2017

Migrant workers languish in Malaysian detention centres

Thousands of Myanmar migrant workers are spending months or even years in detention camps in Malaysia waiting for the government to confirm their citizenship status, migrant rights groups say.

The delay has caused a backlog in the 11 detention camps throughout Malaysia, recently returned workers say. The backup appears to be unique to Myanmar workers.

“Most migrants have to stay in the camps only for a few weeks, but Myanmar migrant workers are there often for at least seven or eight months. We need our government to resolve this problem quickly,” said U Kyaw Zaw Lwin, chair of the Free Funeral Service in Johor, Malaysia.

His organisation helps Myanmar migrant workers obtain permission from camp officers to connect with their friends or family members who can assist in verifying their citizenship status at the Myanmar embassy.

“Workers aren’t allowed to use phones in the camps. So they have no identity papers and have no chance to apply for citizen identification,” he said.

On visits to the camp, the Free Funeral Society takes about 10 mobile phones to give the men and women a chance to call friends and family members for help to gather the needed documents. They also go to the embassy and apply for a certificate of identity, a procedure used for those who do not hold national IDs or household lists, for the workers.

Between 300 and 500 Myanmar migrant workers, including women, are currently stranded at Parka Narnat Camp and some of them have been waiting to go home for two or three years, according to Ko Hla Khaing, who lived in the camp himself for eight months until returning home only recently.

“I was jailed for five months [on immigration charges]. After my release, I lived in the camp. We couldn’t connect to anyone and the Myanmar embassy came to the camp only once every 45 days, but we had no permission to meet with them,” he said. His eventual release was organised by the Johor Free Funeral Society.

Workers who returned from the camps said that other embassies visited the camps weekly to help their country’s citizens go back home and that most were there only for days.

“All Myanmar workers have trouble providing for their livelihoods in the camps. Many people suffer from skin diseases and others who had to stay longer went mad,” said Ko Thura Soe, also a recently released migrant worker.

He was jailed for a month for living in the country illegally and was stranded in Parka Nanat Camp for about six months.

U Myo Aung, director general of the Department of Labour, said the affairs of migrant workers in Malaysian camps did not concern the Ministry of Labour and that they had no data about it.

“This is not a labour issue. This issue concerns the Ministry of Home Affairs because the men in the camps have disobeyed the law. The Myanmar embassy is helping them to come back home by confirming their citizenship status,” he said.

A new crackdown on illegal migrant workers in Malaysia is expected this year as the government aims to end illegal migration. The Malaysian government started a scheme last year that asked companies to report any undocumented workers to the Department of Immigration without repercussions.