Home Civil Society Voices Respect rule of law through fair, humane immigration system with accountability

Respect rule of law through fair, humane immigration system with accountability

Stop weaponising the undocumented status of migrant workers, Tenaganita says

File photo: Hasnoor Hussain/Al Jazeera

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Senior Minister Ismail Sabri’s recent call for the military to arrest undocumented workers reiterates how broken Malaysia’s immigration system is today and how the state continues to play a role in demonising and weaponising undocumented workers while scapegoating them, in a pathetically lame attempt to justify the emergency.

Covid-19 test results currently indicate that the number of positive cases is now higher among the local population than among migrant workers. Hence the senior minister should not try to implicitly shift the blame on to migrant workers, instead of rectifying weaknesses in the current system of dealing with the pandemic, which does not require an emergency.

It is of great concern that such a statement seems to stem from a deep-rooted and deep-seated animosity towards persons from foreign lands and particularly towards the least in society. Such statements expressing a strong xenophobic view are dangerous; they aggravates the intense, violent hatred of migrants, which has already been brewing, creating an inhumane environment in Malaysian society.

Dealing with undocumented workers is not simply a matter of summarily “arresting them and putting them in a lock-up”. Over and over again, we have stated and provided empirical evidence which clearly demonstrates many reasons for migrant workers being undocumented, most of which are due to the unbridled actions of intermediaries, recruitment agents, some unethical employers, corruption in high places and a severely compromised immigration system which is instrumental in “generating” undocumented workers.

Instead of arresting undocumented workers and putting them into lock-ups, the ministries concerned must focus on rectifying serious shortcomings in the immigration system, which were highlighted in the scathing report of the Public Accounts Committee released on 24 November 2020.

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An emergency is not required to implement the reforms. Together with the senior minister, the relevant ministries must pay particular attention to the following findings of the PAC:

  • Granting of too many special approvals (more than regular approvals) to circumvent existing regulations: this practice was described as an unhealthy practice which does not meet the original aim of the foreign worker quota application process, which is to ensure stringent screening of those who qualify (to bring in foreign labour). A portion of the special approvals involved subsectors that were not allowed to bring in foreign workers
  • The entry of foreign workers who had failed their medical examinations: permits were issued to workers who failed the Foreign Workers Medical Examination Monitoring Agency (Fomema) inspection. No record has been kept on workers who failed the Fomema test being sent back (to their home countries
  • Existence of middlemen: the PAC described this as a problem stating that no middlemen should be involved in such proceedings, and urged the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate.
  • Stolen user IDs for immigration system: the PAC found that some user IDs were allegedly stolen and misused to create a fake quota in the Malaysian Immigration System (MyIMMs). This incident clearly shows that the system can be easily hacked and that the security system used is weak
  • Twenty police reports had been lodged on theft and misuse of user identification to apply for false quotas under the MyIMMs system, but there was no outcome from the investigations.

It should be evident that these shortcomings have contributed significantly to the creation of undocumented migrants.

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The senior minister’s statement is an admission that immigration authorities and other relevant enforcement have been unable to secure our borders effectively, hence the need for emergency powers.

Using the emergency, calling on the military to hunt and arrest undocumented migrants down without legal process is clear misuse of power. 

Enforcing any law, including the Immigration Act must be carried out in the spirit of justice and bonum commune (common goodness of society) instead of oppressing the oppressed and instilling fear in them and leading them to despair. – Tenaganita 

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