Thousands of lives are being affected, rights violated and justice denied because of what is happening in the 6P programme, claims Irene Fernandez.
It has been recently revealed that the former Home-Minister and current MP of Kangar, Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, is in fact a director of SNT Universal Corporation Sdn Bhd, which is a government-appointed agent under the 6P amnesty program (Free Malaysia Today, 23 November 2012).
SNT Universal Corporation Sdn Bhd is currently under police investigation for fraud and several offences related to human trafficking. This is yet another reminder of how urgent and imperative it is that investigations into allegations of corruption and State complicity in fraud involving the 6P programme be carried out independently, urgently and openly.
The 6P programme has been lauded by the Malaysian government as a ‘goodwill gesture’ of amnesty and legalisation for regularisation of migrant workers in Malaysia. The experiences of migrant workers and employers over the past 18 months demonstrate how seriously fraud, abuse and corruption has festered throughout this programme.
Whatever the stated objectives of the 6P programme may be, the Malaysian government cannot claim ignorance of the realities of what the 6P has become: a fiasco whereby migrant workers are allegedly cheated, abused and remain undocumented despite making substantial payments of RM3000-RM4000 per person to 6P agents who have been approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Migrant workers have filed complaints of fraud with Tenaganita involving 55 government-approved 6P agencies. Based on testimonies by the migrants, it is estimated that there are 200000 migrant workers, especially from Bangladesh, who have been allegedly cheated by these agencies.
Thousands of migrants have been swindled of their money, and left in an undocumented status, open to arrest, detention, whipping and deportation through no fault of their own.
These thousands of migrants are victims of a system engineered by the Malaysian government and who are being punished by crimes allegedly committed by agencies approved by the Home Ministry.
Documented testimonies and evidence of this alleged fraud were submitted to the Royal Malaysian Police at Bukit Aman, to the Immigration Department at Putrajaya, to the Home Ministry and to the Ministry of Human Resources more than seven months ago. Migrant workers who have been affected, and who have faced physical harm and threats by the agents have also filed numerous police reports, which have been followed up by Tenaganita.
More than half a year has passed, but no action has been taken. No arrests of the agents have been made, nor has there been a freeze of their operations. The migrant workers who have been allegedly cheated continue to have their rights violated, and their lives threatened.
The fiasco and manipulation involved in the 6P programme has not only frustrated the workers but has also affected employers who were promised by the agents that work permits would be obtained for their workers. Instead, the agents have in most cases made applications for work permits under companies which are bogus employers and which do not have any operations. Employers who have taken appropriate actions to obtain legal documents for their workers are therefore also vulnerable to being punished under the law as a result of the alleged cheating by these agents.
This issue has been highlighted to the Immigration Department, but they continue to grant approvals for processing of work permits without proper verification, long after the deadline for approvals under the 6P has passed, as demonstrated on the Immigrant Department’s website [Note: this information was removed from the website after Tenaganita met with the Home Ministry in September 2012.]
The silence and inaction by the authorities demonstrate State complicity in the abuse of rights and in alleged fraud. What is the Malaysian government hiding, who are they protecting and how are they benefiting from these allegedly fraudulent practices? The Malaysian authorities have had ample time to act on the numerous complaints filed and evidence received; the Malaysian public now demands that the authorities answer for their inaction.
The Home Minister must also be held accountable for the vicious climate of unsafe migration, exploitation and human trafficking that has been caused by his Ministry. After the repeated highlighting of these issues by Tenaganita, other NGOs and the news media, the Home Minister cannot claim to be unaware of the situation. He has the power to set in place the process to right these wrongs. Why is he refusing to exercise his powers to address these very serious issues that affect the lives of thousands of people?
The Bangladesh government is reportedly on the verge of signing a new Memorandum of Understanding with Malaysia on the recruitment and placement of migrants from Bangladesh to Malaysia. Why is the Bangladesh government wilfully entering into this agreement when thousands of their citizens continue to be exploited in Malaysia?
Bangladeshi migrants who have been cheated by the 6P will hand over a memorandum to the Minister of Expatriates’ Welfare & Overseas Employment from Bangladesh during his visit to Malaysia. The memorandum contains seven demands:
- That they be immediately granted valid work permits;
- That the names of their rightful employers are stated on the work permits;
- That SA, the owner of XYZ (one of the agents involved in 6P that the workers have identified) be held accountable for allegedly fraudulent practices;
- That all the 55 agencies allegedly involved in cheating migrants through the 6P be held accountable (names listed in the memorandum);
- That the practice of using agents for the recruitment and placement of migrants be abolished;
- That a government-to-government migrant recruitment and placement policy that holds at its core the protection of workers’ rights and dignity be implemented immediately; and
- That the Bangladesh High Commission in Malaysia be proactive in addressing complaints raised, and that the labour attaché will ensure better protection of rights and representation of the workers who are seeking redress.
Tenaganita supports these seven demands made by the affected workers and we wish to remind the Bangladesh government that it is their responsibility not to compromise on the protection of rights, lives and dignity of its citizens who are here to eke out a living for their loved ones and their country.
We reiterate our call for immediate, open and transparent investigations and proactive actions by the Malaysian government to address these pervasive and systematic exploitative practices and human trafficking present in the 6P programme. Continued silence is not acceptable. The time to act is now.
Irene Fernandez is executive director of Tenaganita, a migrants’ rights protection group.