Irene: Migrant workers are regular victims of corruption

By Anisah Shukry

KUALA LUMPUR, May 11 — Migrant workers in Malaysia are regularly harassed by enforcement authorities and forced to pay bribes, activist Irene Fernandez told the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) today, maintaining her stand that Malaysia is unsafe for foreign labour.

In an interview with an MACC officer that lasted over an hour, Fernandez (picture) cited six cases as examples of corruption against migrant workers when entering and working in this country.

She was summoned to the MACC today after coming under fire for criticising Malaysia’s treatment of migrant workers in a Jakarta daily.

“Migrant workers are regularly confronted by enforcement agencies such as RELA, and they ask for documents. But when migrant workers ask enforcement agencies for their identity, the workers are slapped and beaten for asking that question. They are searched and money is taken from them,” she told reporters here.

“We are unable to identify them because officers refuse to reveal their identity. Therefore how can we bring about issues of corruption on an individual level?”

She also related how police failed to rescue migrant workers in difficulty despite being informed of their predicament.

“We tried to rescue girls from a bar in Seremban. We informed the police there to help with the rescue work. The girls were suddenly moved to behind the bar. The police came for the raid, but nothing happened,” she said.

“And so the question remains: why didn’t the police rescue the girls?”

Fernandez said a proper system must be established to improve the situation of foreign labour and to ensure enforcement agencies acted with “more dignity”.

She suggested to the MACC that its intelligence branch investigate the issues she raised.

“One area I requested that they look into critically is human trafficking and corruption. And looking at indicators of how trafficking is able to take place, it is due to corrupt practices.”

She said the failure to set up an independent police complaints mechanism had lead to “windows for corruption” to take place.

The Jakarta Post had on Monday reported Fernandez as saying, among others, that Malaysia was not safe for Indonesian workers because it did not have a legal framework or specific laws to protect migrant workers.

She was also reported to have said that it was not in the police’s power to shoot dead three Indonesian nationals, who had been suspected of burglary and robbery, in an incident in Port Dickson recently.

Fernandez has since come under heavy fire locally for her criticism, which detractors say has painted Malaysia in a negative light, was unpatriotic and detrimental to Malaysia’s bilateral relations with Indonesia.

She has since disputed the remarks and said the Jakarta Post would print a correction to the article.

But she stressed that she would not back down from her stand that Malaysia continues to be a “completely” unsafe environment for Indonesian workers.

The activist, who was once jailed for exposing the allegedly poor conditions at local immigration centres, also refused to apologise for her statements, demanding instead that the government and her critics apologise to her.

Indonesia recently lifted the moratorium on the supply of domestic workers to Malaysia, but Indonesian Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar has repeatedly said Jakarta would not send workers until Putrajaya could ensure their protection.

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