Refugee advocates have accused Malaysian authorities of “supporting fraud and abuse of migrants” after a crackdown on illegal migrants in the country saw thousands of people arrested, allegedly including asylum seekers and children.
Malaysia began its largest operation to date last week to track down, detain and deport the half a million undocumented illegal workers living in the country.
Immigration department deputy director Saravana Kumar told Bloomberg that a total of 2,433 people had been arrested during 40 simultaneous operations by the immigration department, army, police and local councils.
Malaysia-based refugee advocacy and anti-trafficking group Tenaganita has said that asylum-seekers awaiting processing through the UNHCR are among those detained, and allege that some immigration officials are not accepting UN letters stating the person is currently being processed as valid documentation. Malaysia does not officially recognise refugee status.
“We have about 110,000 or so refugees registered with the UNHCR and between 50,000 and 70,000 who are still seeking asylum, so they have not been registered yet,” Tenaganita’s Katrina Maliamauv said.
People from both groups, including children and elderly people, are among those arrested, she said.
“What we’ve been hearing – at least for the refugees with their cards – is that they’ve been released within a day as soon as UNHCR can verify their cards. For those who are still waiting to be registered, they are still in detention.
“That’s the group that we are extremely concerned about because we don’t know what access UNHCR has to them or what opportunity they have to seek support or intervention or to state that they are asylum-seekers.”
Tenaganita claims that some refugees are in hiding, fearful of arrest and detention as authorities seek out illegal workers who did not come forward during a 2011 amnesty.
“We have also been told that migrants can choose to either be deported or pay to enforcement officers between 1,000 to 1,500 ringitt [Dh1,100-Dh1,650] between a stipulated timeframe to be released,” the release said.
Refugees are not allowed to work under Malaysian law but many do as the only means to support themselves, and Tenaganita were told that employers found to have refugee workers would be fined between 5,000 and 10,000 ringitt.
About 1.3 million visa overstayers signed up for permits during an amnesty in October 2011, with 500,000 processed for legalisation and 333,000 repatriated. However, more than 400,000 workers remain undocumented, according to government estimates.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd