Myanmar & COVID-19

Malaysia Deports Nearly 400 Undocumented Myanmar Workers

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 12 May 2020

YANGON—Nearly 400 Myanmar nationals were deported from Malaysia on Monday after being detained at 11 immigration detention centers across the country, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

U Aung Zaw Min, labor attaché at the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, told The Irrawaddy that 391 undocumented workers from Myanmar who were in Malaysia illegally were being held at detention centers. The workers were held due to the suspension of flights and lockdown from the Malaysian government’s Movement Control Order, issued on March 18 to control the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday, the Malaysian government sent the 391 detainees home to Myanmar on two chartered flights.

In Malaysia, undocumented foreign workers are often jailed for three-to-six months under the country’s immigration laws for staying in the country illegally. The workers are normally detained at immigration detention centers until their identities and citizenship are confirmed by their respective embassies, after which they are released and deported.

The Myanmar labor attaché said that the Malaysian government paid for the repatriation flights and that the returnees did not have to pay for their tickets. In the past, Myanmar nationals deported from Malaysia have had to pay for their own return flights.

The workers spent several months in the detention centers and were deported in part because Malaysian authorities are accelerating arrests of illegal foreign workers and need more space in the detention centers, according to the Myanmar labor attaché.

There are still many detainees from Myanmar in Malaysia’s immigration detention centers waiting for citizenship certificates from the Myanmar government or to be interviewed by representatives from the Myanmar embassy.

MOFA said on Monday that region and state governments have facilitated transportation for the 391 deported Myanmar nationals to travel to their hometowns, where the returnees will be placed in facility quarantine for 21 days.

U San Win, chairman Kathpone Free Funeral Services Society, a Kuala Lumpur-based group working on Myanmar migrant rights issues, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that hundreds of Myanmar migrants who have no proper documents are also stranded in Malaysia.

The undocumented migrants also struggle to contact the Myanmar Embassy for help because, according to U San Win, they don’t know how to use email, which is the only channel for contacting the embassy. He said that Myanmar nationals in Malaysia have been unable to contact the embassy’s hotline phone numbers.

“[Undocumented Myanmar nationals] all need to be sent home urgently because the Malaysia government is now accelerating crackdown operations against undocumented foreign workers,” said U San Win.

Since April 30, the Myanmar Government has organized repatriation flights to bring nationals home who are stranded abroad due to flight suspensions and lockdowns over COVID-19.

As of Sunday, Myanmar has brought home 1,113 Myanmar nationals from more than 10 countries, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the UAE, the UK and the US. Tens of thousands more Myanmar migrant workers have returned on their own from Thailand, China and elsewhere.