Burma to Cooperate With Malaysia on Forced Repatriation of Migrants

By Lawi Weng, Migrant Workers 4 September 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s government is preparing to cooperate with Malaysia to arrange for the repatriation of hundreds of Burmese migrant workers who were rounded up during an ongoing crackdown by Malaysian authorities, officials said on Wednesday.

“The [Burma] embassy will check the identity of those who have been detained. Then, if it’s found that they are citizens of Myanmar, they would be sent back to the country,” Ye Htut, the President’s Office’s spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy.

Myo Aung, a director general from the Ministry of Labor, said Burmese officials were preparing to visit Kuala Lumpur in order to discuss the impending expulsion of unregistered Burmese nationals in Malaysia.

“We need to go to talk with the Malaysian authorities first, to find out how we can help our people,” said Myo Aung, adding that a date for the visit had not yet been set.

Malaysian authorities began a crackdown in recent days that is reportedly targeting about 400,000 foreigners who are staying in the country without proper legal documentation. Many migrants enter Malaysia illegally in search of work and under Malaysian laws foreign workers have little legal recourse once they are apprehended by authorities, according human rights groups.

On Monday, about 2,500 migrants were detained by Malaysian authorities, 555 of who are Burmese nationals, Voice of America reported. Operations to apprehend unregistered foreigners are continuing.

Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous nations, employs several million low-wage migrant workers from poor countries across the region. Indonesian, Filipino, Indian, Nepalese and Burmese workers perform unskilled jobs in restaurants, construction sites and factories, while thousands of young women work as house maids for Malaysian families. The current crackdown on migrants comes at a time of slowing economic growth in Malaysia.

According to some estimates, there are up to half a million Burmese migrant workers living in Malaysia. There are also thousands of Burmese refugees who have fled ethnic conflicts and persecution in their home country.

Kao Non, a Burmese migrant working in a restaurant in Kualu Lumpur, said the ongoing operation was spreading fear among migrant communities. Many had decided not show up for work out of fear for arrest and some businesses had to temporarily close due to a lack of staff, he said.

“But, there are also people who are still working even though they are afraid, but they need to earn money to get food to eat,” said Kao Non, who comes from Burma’s Mon State. He added that many migrants had temporarily crossed the border into Thailand in order to avoid detention.

Kao Non said that during one operation Malaysian authorities arrested about 100 Burmese nationals who are Christians from Chin State. “They were arrested when they were praying in a church on Sunday,” Kao Non claimed.

Such sweeps targeting migrants are implemented annually in Malaysia, but Kao Non said that this year’s operation seemed particularly thorough.

“The current crackdown is different from other years. Many police wore plain clothes and we cannot recognize them when they enter our businesses. You only know them after they arrested you,” he said.