89 Dockworkers Return From Malaysia After Brawl

By Nyein Nyein 8 January 2014

The Burma Embassy in Malaysia said 89 Burmese migrant laborers working in a shipyard in Miri, Borneo, are being repatriated this week, after they recently became embroiled in a fight with their fellow Indonesian dockworkers.

Labor attaché Soe Win said 20 people will fly back to Rangoon on Wednesday evening, while 69 others already returned on Tuesday.

He said the embassy had facilitated talks between the shipyard company and Malaysian authorities in order to allow for the men’s return. “Not all workers have completed their two or three-year contract periods, only five people have finished their terms… but we managed to solve it,” said Soe Win.

On Dec. 23, a fight broke out between two Burmese workers and their Indonesian colleagues. Tensions between Burmese and Indonesian workers boiled over and hundreds of Indonesian workers reportedly burned down the dormitory of the Burmese employees.

Since then, the employer has let the Burmese men stay inside a factory building for their safety as they were afraid to stay in their hostels, according to Soe Win.

The workers and the Malaysian employers reported the incident to the local police but Indonesian workers left the shipyard shortly after the fight. “They are unlikely to lay charges, as they [Indonesian workers] already returned to their own countries, as have our nationals,” said Soe Win.

An estimated 250,000 Burmese nationals are believed to be working in Malaysia, often taking low-paid jobs, including at restaurants and construction sites, with help from recruitment agencies. About 110,000 Burmese nationals in the country lack proper legal documentation, Burma’s Ministry of Labor said in September 2013.

The Burma Embassy regularly intervenes in labor disputes, or cases involving migrant workers lacking proper documentation, the latter are often rounded up in recurrent Malaysian crackdowns on migrants.

Last year, several thousand Burmese workers returned home with the help of the embassy following such a crackdown in September. An outbreak of deadly clashes between Burmese Buddhists and Muslim migrants in Kuala Lumpur in June also caused many workers to seek repatriation.