Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Malaysians do not welcome migrant workers, says UN agency

Malaysians do not welcome migrant workers, says UN agency

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 – Malaysians are least in favour of welcoming migrant workers, according to a survey conducted as part of a UN agency’s development report.

The report examines local attitudes towards migrants and a survey was conducted in 46 countries. Malaysia came out the lowest in terms of favoring or welcoming migrant workers.

“Malaysia has had a long history of receiving refugees. In May itself, there was an approximate 45,000 asylum seekers. Now, there are 65,000 registered in the country,” said Alan Vernon, Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

However, he said, there is a specific need for governments to recognise the distinction between refugees and migrant workers.

“Migrant workers move from one place to another to seek opportunities. Refugees, on the other hand, are forced to relocate or move to escape persecution and survival. Refugees do not have the option of going home,” said Vernon.

Many of the refugees currently residing in the country come from either politically unstable or war-ravaged countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Iraq.

One of the main concerns regarding refugees and migrant workers rights in Malaysia are that their rights are not guaranteed since the Malaysian government is not a signatory to the UN Human Rights Convention.

Malaysia has also yet to sign the UN Convention on Refugees, and therefore does not officially recognise refugees.

“There has been a lot of cooperation with the Immigration Department to address the issue.

“But since refugees cannot work legally, most of them cannot afford the proper healthcare needed,” said the UNHCR spokesman.

Florida Sandanasamy, programme coordinator for migrant rights protection in Tenaganita, said that the influx of people coming into the country was not a choice on their part, but more of a necessity.

“Malaysia is known for taking in the largest number of refugees and migrant workers in Asia,” said Florida.

She stated that since there are no proper international conventions in the country for recognising and ensuring migrant rights, many of them end up being exploited by employers.

“In 2007, many workers were left stranded in KLIA after finding out that there were no job opportunities for them. Many of them were also subsequently deported without being given a chance.

“They spent so much money in just coming to the country. By not giving them equal opportunity, they go back even more in debt.”

She also lashed out at the government for putting the Home Ministry in charge of migrant affairs instead of the Human Resource ministry.

Kamal Malhotra, UNDP Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei noted that it was incumbent upon the Malaysian government to provide policies to accommodate migrants and refugees.

“A much greater awareness and education about the benefits of migration should be implemented. Foreign workers have brought about a lot of benefits to the economy.

“For instance, it is clear that a lot of Malaysian women rely on domestic helpers or maids to help them so that they can be part of the workforce,” explained Kamal.

He also noted that Malaysia’s non-receptiveness towards foreign workers could be traced to the drastic rise of immigrants in a short period of time.