Channel NewsAsia

Malaysia to weed out undocumented migrant workers

From Tuesday, Malaysia will embark on a nationwide operation to weed out hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers.

KUALA LUMPUR: From Tuesday, Malaysia will embark on a nationwide operation to weed out hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers.

The operation follows the government's recent implementation of a colour-coded card to identify workers based on job sectors, and the banning of foreign workers from working in fast food chains.

Malaysia's Home Ministry hopes the implementation of the cards will better regulate the country's huge population of some 4 million migrant workers.

Called the “I Card”, the new system has various colours, differentiating workers in different sectors such as manufacturing, construction and services.

Employers have been told to get “I Cards” for their foreign workers by year-end.

But activists questioned the effectiveness of the cards without a comprehensive policy in place, not just to regulate but also protect the rights of migrant workers.

Dr Irene Fernandez, executive director of Women's Force, said: “Why do we need to monitor migrant workers in this manner with different colours? When you do not have proper policies in place, you are barking up the wrong tree.”

Dr Fernandez, who works with various migrant worker organisations, also questioned the purpose of a blanket ban on hiring foreigners in the fast food industry.

Still, the government feels the move is necessary to protect the country's image, as many foreign workers have problems communicating with customers.

Starting from Tuesday midnight, Malaysian authorities will be conducting a massive operation against undocumented workers, who are blamed for rising social ills in the country.

Biometrics of those arrested will be taken before the illegal migrant workers are deported.

The offenders will not be allowed to re-enter the country.

Malaysia’s Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said: "I hope they understand, there will be no more grace period after the January 21 deadline.”

But many rights activists have raised concerns over the impending crackdown.

Dr Fernandez said: “There is going to be intense human rights violations where the arrests will be on victims of exploitation and not on perpetrators; if there is any action to be taken, it must be taken against employers who have not legalised their workers because they are the only one who can legalise workers, or agents who have cheated migrants of their money."

With the impending crackdown, it remains to be seen whether tough action will be taken against errant employers and the agencies.  

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