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May 1998, Volume 5, Number 5

Malaysia: Deportations

Deportations. On April 10, 1998, about 40 Indonesians jumped over walls and fences to enter the US, Swiss, French and Brunei embassies in Kuala Lumpur; several of these embassies permitted Malaysian police to enter and take some of the Indonesians away. The Indonesians were Acehnese who said they would be persecuted if returned to Indonesia. On their return to Sumatra, the Acehnese are "quarantined" for 12 days by the Indonesians military to determine if they have committed "illegal activities."

On April 14, the US Department of State said that the eight men seeking political asylum in Malaysia who sought refuge in the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur will have American protection until their asylum applications are decided; another 14 sought refuge at the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur.

The Semenyih detention camp, the site of clashes in mid-March, is now empty. Eight Indonesians and one policeman were killed in riots which occurred as the immigrants were being deported from the camp outside Kuala Lumpur.

In April, Malaysia's "Operation Get Out" continued to deport Indonesians without permission to stay. Indonesia is paying half of the cost of their repatriation. About 1,030 Bangladeshis were expected to be put on chartered flights from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka in mid-April. Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi defended the use of the police and military to detect and eject illegal immigrants: "It is dangerous to have too many people unemployed. It can cause instability in Malaysia socially and even politically. We have to take care of our own people first; charity must begin at home."

As Malaysia steps up deportations, the Washington Post on April 7, 1998 reported that Malaysia will not succeed in keeping Indonesians out because "Migration from Indonesia to Malaysia is less a trend than an industry, creating an entrenched subculture of migrants, labor brokers, prostitutes and corrupt immigration authorities who have created a massive cross-border network."

Employment. Malaysia has announced that the work permits of 850,000 foreign workers that expire in August 1998 will not be renewed. Beginning August 15, 1998, the work permits of 200,000 foreign construction and service workers (those working in hotels, restaurants, fast-food outlets, launderettes and karaoke lounges) will not be renewed.

However, parts of the Malaysian economy seem dependent on foreigners: Deputy Home Minister Datuk Ong Ka Ting said: "We have analyzed the situation and found that just conducting operations against illegals is not enough. We have to cut off demand for such workers." The Malaysian Agricultural Producers Association said that 85 percent of the 400 plantations it represents face labor shortages.

Immigration officials complain that many employers continue to hire illegal workers. When illegal workers are detected, the employers say that the workers were supplied by agencies, and that the employer did not know they were illegal. Under Section 55 (B) of the Immigration Act (amended in 1997) employers of five or more illegals are subject to a mandatory jail term of six months to five years and fine of between RM10,000 and RM50,000 for each illegal foreign worker.

Entries. The Malaysian government in April estimated that 300 Indonesians attempt illegal entry each day.

As the number of Indonesians attempting entry into Malaysia continues to increase, Malaysian President Mahathir Mohamad has termed them "the new boat people." Indonesians deported from Malaysia often remain in staging points such as Nunukan Timur on the Indonesian part of Borneo, where up to half of the women who have been deported are reportedly prostitutes attempting to earn enough to try re-entry.

Many Indonesians enter Malaysia legally, with a red one-month over-border pass, known as a Pas Lintas-Batas, which costs about $18. However, few leave after a month. Malaysia continues to search them out. Over the weekend of April 25-26, 400 illegal foreigners were detained; on April 23, 722 were arrested on a construction site.

Thailand. The Thai government plans to step up its deportation campaign on May 1, 1998, but the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry asked immigration authorities to be flexible, because some industries need foreign workers. The Labor Ministry is proposing that illegal foreign workers be permitted to work in agriculture while awaiting repatriation in 13 provinces adjoining Burma, Laos and Cambodia and 22 other coastal provinces in fishing. The Association of Thai Natural Rubber Farmers complained that tougher enforcement would lead to labor shortages.

Seth Mydans, "As Boom Fails, Malaysia Sends Migrants Out," New York Times, April 9, 1998. Cindy Shiner, "Malaysia Gets Tough on Illegal Immigrants," Washington Post, April 7, 1998. "Malaysia to deport Bangladeshis next week," Reuters, April 5, 1998.