Malaysia’s massive migrant crackdown sparks rights fear

Agence France Presse

Kuala Lumpur, January 30:

Half-a-million police and civilian volunteers will begin hunting down hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Malaysia on Tuesday in a campaign which has caused widespread concern among human rights groups.

Raiding parties will arrest illegal workers and factory managers, restaurant owners and householders employing them, with most facing jail terms and whipping, Immigration Department enforcement director Ishak Mohamed warned.

The raiding teams, which include more than 200 armed civilians, will have the power to break down doors in their hunt for up to 800,000 illegal migrants believed to be still in the country after 400,000 left during an amnesty over the past three months, he said.

Most of the illegal migrants are from neighbouring Indonesia, but others are from the Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, drawn to relatively prosperous Malaysia by jobs in the construction, plantation and service industries. Rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have strongly criticised the government’s plan to deploy hundreds of thousands of members of volunteer neighbourhood security groups in the sweep. The members of the People’s Volunteer Corps, an organisation of uniformed part-timers who have some policing powers, will receive cash rewards for each migrant arrested, an incentive that Human Rights Watch worries could lead to “vigilantism”.

The rights group Voice of the Malaysian People urged the government to halt the crackdown amid concerns that asylum seekers and girls trafficked into Malaysia for forced prostitution would be detained together with illegal immigrants. “There is high potential for human rights abuses to occur through such mass-scale operations,” it warned. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Malaysia deployed mobile teams ahead of the crackdown in an urgent effort to register refugees hiding in the jungles on the fringes of Malaysian cities where many work illegally. It is feared that asylum seekers from military-ruled Myanmar and the strife-torn Indonesian province of Aceh will be swept up along with the illegal migrants, Volker Turk, head of the UNHCR in Malaysia, said.

Reacting to the concerns, Home Minister Azmi Khalid said all those involved in the nationwide crackdown had been given clear directives to avoid excessive use of force and guidelines to prevent claims of abuse or maltreatment. Once captured, illegal immigrants can be jailed for up to two years, fined up to $2,600 and given six strokes with a cane.