The job could not be better — apart from the good wage, food, accommodation and transport are provided. With jobs hard to come by for refugees, Somali refugee Ahmed and friends were grateful.
Come payday, however, their “dream job” became a nightmare. Instead of getting paid, Ahmed and friends were slapped with a bill for their food and accommodation.
“He told us we had to pay him because we owed him money for the food, accommodation and other expenses,” says the 28-year-old who fled to Malaysia two years ago.
When they protested, they were threatened with beatings and even deportation to Somalia.
Forced to work illicitly, refugees in Malaysia are at risk of exploitation and victimization by some unscrupulous employers.
Hence, many welcome the government's proposal to allow them to work legally while they await resettlement to a third country or voluntary repatriation.
Currently, some 104,070 refugees here are registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) while some 50,000 are waiting to be registered. To survive, they take up informal and odd jobs.
Formalizing work for refugees will give them a legal recourse if they get caught in any exploitative situations with employers, says S. Sharif Mohamed, the leader of a Somali refugee community in Kuala Lumpur.
“For example, those like Ahmed will be able to go to the police if they are not paid or are ill-treated by employers. Knowing that refugees are protected, meanwhile, will make employers think twice before exploiting them,” he adds.
At the same time, it will encourage more employers to hire refugees, Sharif highlights.
“Some employers now are reluctant to hire refugees because they are afraid of getting into trouble with the authorities,” he says.
As reported, the Home Affairs Ministry is working with the Immigration Department and UNHCR to devise plans on providing training and jobs for them.
This includes implementing a proper recruitment and monitoring system to ensure that the refugees are not exploited or trafficked in any way.
The Right Mechanism
For many employers, however, their worry about hiring refugees and asylum seekers is the lack of proper legal and administrative framework governing them in Malaysia.
But according to UNHCR representative in Malaysia Michele Manca di Nissa, there are already systems in place for refugee documentation, protection and assistance in the country.
“UNHCR has already established good cooperation with the Malaysian Government with some ad hoc arrangements for refugee protection and assistance.
“For instance, the UNHCR documentation is increasingly being recognized by law enforcement officials and UNHCR is able to intervene for the release of refugees should they be held for immigration offences,” he clarifies.