Malaysia: Halt Ongoing Crackdown, Protect Migrant Workers



3 JULY 2018

Amnesty International Malaysia is appalled by reports of a planned crackdown on migrant workers in Malaysia by the Immigration Department that happened on July 1 which resulted in 229 immigrants being arrested. The crackdown is a result of the ending in June of the “rehiring” programme for undocumented migrants under an operation known as Ops Mega 3.0.

“Amnesty International Malaysia is concerned that any raids conducted could involve violations of human rights when migrant workers are arrested. Malaysian authorities have to date displayed an alarming track record in raid operations which have often involved the arrest of migrant workers using inhuman and degrading methods including large-scale public roundups in markets and on city streets and indiscriminate, warrantless raids on private dwellings in poorer neighbourhoods. Arrested migrants may also face protracted detention in overcrowded immigration detention centres,” said Gwen Lee, Interim Executive Director, Amnesty International Malaysia.

In the past, migrants who are found to have violated immigration laws are subjected to substantial fines, imprisonment and in some cases caning, an internationally unlawful form of punishment that often amounts to torture.

Many of those arrested are victims of human trafficking syndicates. Although law enforcers are also cracking down on individuals responsible for human trafficking and employers of undocumented migrants, the government’s approach targets the victims of human rights abuses rather than those who commit abuses.

Malaysia has long been known as a destination for trafficking victims, including documented and undocumented workers. It relies heavily on foreign workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines, among others. It has nearly 2 million registered migrant workers, but there are millions more in the country without work permits and are at risk of arrest and ill-treatment.

On 28 June 2018, the US State Department announced it will downgrade Malaysia in its annual report on human trafficking, just a year after the nation was upgraded to Tier 2 for making progress.

“Amnesty International Malaysia is calling for the Malaysian government to halt all intended raids effective immediately and to coordinate across ministries, agencies and civil society organisations to formulate a suitable remediation to address migrant worker issues and a strategy to disrupt the human trafficking syndicate in the region, that is in line with international law and standards, in particular for protecting the rights of trafficked victims,” said Gwen Lee.

The organisation also urges the Malaysian government to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol, the Migrant Workers Convention, the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (ILO Convention No. 105), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), as part of the Pakatan Harapan’s promise in their manifesto to ratify relevant UN treaties.

“We welcome the statement made by the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah on the government’s pledge to sign six international conventions including the UNCAT and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. These treaties should then be fully incorporated into domestic law and implemented in policy and practice swiftly in order to protect the wellbeing and the rights of migrant workers in Malaysia,” said Gwen Lee.


On July 1, 2018, the Immigration Department of Malaysia conducted a crackdown on undocumented migrants nationwide after the expiry of the deadline on June 30 for the rehiring and relocation programme that began on 15 February 2016.

The Immigration Department said 19,969 illegal immigrants of various nationalities had been arrested nationwide between January 1 and June 1. The department also took legal action against 536 employers who employed illegal immigrants. The department also said that 9,854 illegal immigrants had been prosecuted as of July 1 and the rest would be prosecuted soon.

Last year, the US State Department upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 in its annual report on human trafficking with a list of nations making significant efforts towards full compliance with  minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. According to the State Department, the Malaysian government had increased its efforts towards compliance by expanding trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.

However, the US State Department  also said Malaysia did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas, including victim protection. It has also said complicity among law enforcement officials, in the form of accepting bribes to allow undocumented border crossings, hampered some anti-trafficking efforts.