3rd March 2024: Concern on repatriation of potential trafficking and forced labour victims under Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme Commencing 1st March 2024 (Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist)

Concern on repatriation of potential trafficking and forced labour victims under Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme Commencing 1st March 2024 (Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist)

3rd March 2024: Concern on repatriation of potential trafficking and forced labour/abuse victims under Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme Commencing 1st March 2024 (Statement by Andy Hall, Independent Migrant Worker Rights Specialist)

I refer with concern to the Malaysian government’s recent announcements regarding the commencement of a supposedly voluntary Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme for irregular foreign workers in the country, starting on 1st March 2024 and running until Dec 31 2024“- Andy Hall, Migrant Workers Rights Specialist

3rd March 2024: FMT – Ensure ‘crooks’ do not gain from Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme, says activist Andy Hall

Ensure ‘crooks’ do not gain from Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme, says activist Andy Hall

Andy Hall says those applying to leave should be screened to find out if they were victims of human trafficking, abuse, or forced labour.

Original Source: Free Malaysia Today – 3rd March 2024

This repatriation programme follows on from a previously implemented Workforce Recalibration Programme (WRP) 2.0, which concluded on Dec 31 2023.

This WRP programme provided, at significant cost to vulnerable and already indebted workers, and with much irregularity and non transparency, employers in Malaysia with the flexible opportunity to apply for undocumented foreign workers to meet their labour needs.

No investigation was seemingly done during the WRP implementation into whether any of the irregular workers registered under the scheme were victims of abuse or indebted or already in situations of modern slavery at that time prior to assigning them to a new employer within the country.

More than an estimated 600,000 (albeit it could be as high as 2,500,000 according to some estimates) foreign workers without proper papers have been urged to return to their home countries from Malaysia without facing legal action under this migrant repatriation programme from Mar 1 to Dec 31, the minister of home affairs said at a press conference in Putrayaja on 1st March 2024.

An estimated 250,000 foreign workers are also apparently unemployed in the country too, in excess of market needs, the minister himself stated in November 2023.

This excess workforce is partly due to an uncontrolled, non transparent and systemically corrupt foreign worker management recruitment system that since mid 2022 has also seen 100,000s of Bangladeshi workers recruited by a criminal syndicate trafficking them for forced labour in Malaysia.

The government has stated that under the newly launched repatriation programme, foreign workers are allowed to return to their home countries without facing legal action and will only be fined for certain offences under the Immigration Act, said home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail on 1st Mar 2024. 

No one under the programme will be prosecuted, the government said. All foreign workers need to do is surrender themselves so that they can be processed and sent home rather than stay in Malaysia illegally.

It is unclear however, whether as has been the case in the past, if repatriated workers will have a lifetime ban from entering into Malaysia again through this repatriation Programme or not.

For this programme, the department is not appointing any agent to manage the repatriation process, as happened in the past and led to gross extortion and exploitation of returning workers. The foreigners can just do this themselves, the government said.

The director-general of immigration explained that while court action would not be taken against those applying for the repatriation programme, they would have to pay a fine to exit the country.

Besides the fine, foreigners must possess a passport or valid travel document issued by their country of origin. They must also have a one-way ticket to their county of origin with a departure date within 14 days from their application for the programme.

It is unclear what costs workers respective embassies or diplomatic missions will charge them for temporary travel documents, or regarding the ease with which they will be issued.

Workers must also have sufficient money to pay for the fine. The payment term is cashless as the department no longer conducts cash transactions, the government has explained, despite many workers still not having access to electronic money transfer mechanisms.

Undocumented foreigners who are 18 years and below will not be fined, which will allow adults to return home with their children without extra burden. However, other conditions remain.

The government has not made mention of financial support to victims of modern slavery or debt bondage who may wish to avail of the Programme but are currently isolated, destitute and under control of oppressors.

The government has simply said that those who want to sign up for the programme should visit state immigration offices throughout the peninsula and Labuan, adding that Sabah and Sarawak have yet to participate.

For more information and background on this programme see for instance reporting HERE.

Comments by Andy Hall, International Migrant Workers Rights Specialist on Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme

In my opinion, this Malaysian Migrant Worker Repatriation Programme may well be beneficial and supportive of some foreign workers in Malaysia with a desire to return back to their country of origin, for many different reasons.

Some foreign workers can easily afford the fines to be paid and can easily navigate the repatriation system to their benefit. To this extent, the Programme is welcome.

However, safeguards need to urgently be built into the Programme also to protect and support potential past and current victims of serious abuse in the country from being further victimized through the repatriation Programme in its current form.

I would like to suggest the detailed screening by the Malaysian Ministry of Human Resources (JTK) or related anti human trafficking officials of all foreign workers departing Malaysia as part of this repatriation programme for evidence of whether they are or were perhaps victims of serious human trafficking, gross abuse, exploitation, forced labour or other crimes against them in the country.

Those workers found to be victims of abuse should be entitled to access to justice mechanisms that ensure they are remediated fully by those who perpetrated offenses against them before they are deported in this repatriation programme so as to ensure also perpetrators of abuse are held to account within the country.

The Malaysian government could otherwise un-intentionally force many currently indebted, abused and unemployed foreign workers in the country irregularly at this time, and in destitution and suffering, through little to no fault of their own, to leave voluntary back to their home countries, at a charge to themselves again through this repatriation Programme.

Whilst repatriation of victims would result in fewer problems for Malaysia to manage regarding all the abuse these workers have previously suffered in the country, the foreign workers themselves would be left without any remediation and justice would be denied to them. It would be difficult for such victims to achieve compensation and justice from their countries of origin in the future.

It would be concerning should criminal syndicates and abusive employers, corrupt officials and bogus brokers or agents or middlemen that have profited from the serious abuse of foreign workers in Malaysia, and prayed on such vulnerable individuals, be able to benefit from their swift and so called ‘voluntary departure’ from the country under this repatriation Programme.

The Programme could otherwise act as a means of washing offender’s hands of the need to remediate potential or past victims of serious crimes for the exploitation they have suffered. This result would only further cement the already ingrained impunity and lack of rule of law that already surrounds foreign worker management and recruitment issues in Malaysia.

It is also most important that the Malaysian government and source countries of foreign workers keeps close tabs through continual monitoring and investigation on the costs to foreign workers of undertaking this Programme.

Concerned authorities should continue to crack down on abusive agents, brokers and intermediaries both in Malaysia and associated with foreign missions and embassies of the workers concerned who currently do and will also surely seek to profit from providing so called ‘services’ to vulnerable, illiterate, irregular, impoverished and desperate foreign workers wishing to avail of the opportunities provided them under the recalibration Programme. 

Consideration of my proposals are a means to ensure the repatriation programme, adjusted from the form it is currently being implemented, doesn’t undermine Malaysia’s stated commitments to effectively combat human trafficking, forced labour, labour exploitation, promote business and human rights.

Consideration of my proposals more importantly will assist to ensure development of a sustainable migrant worker management policy in Malaysia that equally prioritizes national, economic and human security.

Additional Reading:

See also: Mar 2nd 2024 The Star: A chance for illegals to go home

See also: Mar 2nd 2024 The Star: Sarawak immigration extends RTK2.0 until June

See also: Mar 1st 2024 FMT: 600,000 foreign workers urged to take easy exit home

See also: Mar 1st 2024 The Star: Use repatriation programme to return home, 600,000 illegals told

See also: Feb 28th 2024 The Star: New programme lets migrants off the hook without being prosecuted

See also: Feb 25th 2024 The Star: Businesses want foreign worker hiring freeze lifted

See also: Jan 31st 2024 NST: Govt to implement Migrant Repatriation Programme starting March

See also: Jan 31st 2024 The Edge: Cabinet agrees to extend freeze on hiring of foreign workers, says home minister 

See also: 31st Jan 2024 FMT: Migrant repatriation programme set for March 1

See also: 31st Jan 2024 The Star: Migration Repatriation Programme to commence on March 1, says Home Ministry

3rd March 2024: FMT – Overhaul migrant worker application process, MP tells govt

Original Source: FMT – 3rd March 2024

Lim Lip Eng says there are too many people duped into working in Malaysia but end up languishing in detention due to their undocumented status.

3rd Mar 2024: Malaymail Let just one ministry be in charge of migrant workers to close corruption loopholes, Kepong MP proposes

Original Source: Malaymail by Soo Wern Jun – 3rd March 2024

Additional Reading:

See also: Related story – FMT 30th Dec 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall

See also: Malay Mail 8th Feb 2024: HR Ministry hails mediation outcome despite claims duped Bangladeshi workers were short-changed

See also: 8th February 2024: FMT – Bangladeshi workers win RM1mil in unpaid wages

See also: 7th Feb 2024: Bangla Tribune – Job trap in Malaysia, 733 Bangladeshis in salary uncertainty

See also: 6th February2024: Benar News – Malaysian Labor Court orders employers to pay Bangladeshi workers RM1 million in unpaid wages – first reported compensation settlement for Bangladesh Malaysia organised crime syndicate victims being trafficked for forced labour in Malaysia

See also: 16th January 2024: FMT – 751 duped Bangladeshi migrant workers in Pengerang case file RM2 million claim for unpaid wages resulting from situation akin to forced labour, stranded and destitute on arrival in Malaysia (includes comments by Andy Hall)

See also: 6th Jan 2024: FMT: Away from families, in debt, and jobless in a foreign land

See also: 6th Jan 2024: New Strait Times – Company that promised 171 Bangladeshi workers non-existent jobs blacklisted

See also: 5th Jan 2024: New Strait Times – MCA: Don’t just fine employers, hold ministry accountable as well for unemployed foreign workers

See also: FMT 30th Dec 2023: Migrants being duped into Malaysia because of govt’s failure to curb criminal trafficking syndicates and organised crime network, says activist Andy Hall

See also: 30th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – Recruitment agencies accused of deception as Bangladeshi victims speak out on exploitation and fear

See also: 29th Dec 2023: Malay Mail – Set up probe on exploitation of migrant workers and new ministry to manage their affairs, Suhakam tells Putrajaya

See also: 28th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – ‘Company involved in 171 Bangladeshi migrant worker scandal not licensed to recruit’

See also: 28th Dec 2023: FMT – Malaysia has entered ‘slave labour’ territory, says ex-MP – Charles Santiago calls for specific set-ups to manage migrant workers 

See also: 27th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – MTUC demand govt, MACC probe into corrupt recruitment practices of foreign workers

See also: 27th Dec 2023: New Strait Times – Strict action against employers, agencies neglecting 171 Bangladeshi workers: MEF

See also: 27th Dec 2023: FMT – Bangladeshis duped over jobs are victims of human trafficking, says rights group

See also: 26th Dec 2023: FMT – Azalina wants urgent probe into 171 Bangladeshis duped over jobs

See also: 26th Dec 2023: FMT – High recruitment fees make greedy agents bring in workers, says group

See also: 25th Dec 2023: FMT – Probe recruitment agents, MACC told after arrest of Bangladeshis

See also: 25th Dec 2023: FMT – Human resources ministry comes to the rescue of Bangladeshi workers

See also: 25th Dec 2023: FMT – Cops nab 171 foreigners protesting lack of jobs in Johor

See also: 25th Dec 2023: The Star – Foreigners march to police station to complain about agent, get hauled up by Immigration Dept instead

See also: 5th Nov 2023: Malaysian HR Minister pledges nationwide operations concerning plight of Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia following Andy Hall’s complaint letter to the OHCHR

See also: 30th Oct 2023: FMT: Andy Hall refers stranded Bangladeshi workers’ plight in Malaysia to UN Human Rights Council

See also: 19th Oct 2023: Malaysia facing huge excess of 1/4 million migrant laborers

See also: 21st Sep 2023: Malaysian government has 15 source countries for foreign workers – Comments by Andy Hall

See also: 20th Sep 2023: Rate of abused Bangladeshi workers’ entry into Malaysia worrying, says migrant rights activist Andy Hall

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