Report Says Migrants in Malaysia Face Abuse

Published: March 24, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday that migrant workers faced exploitation and widespread abuse in Malaysia, and accused the government of not doing enough to protect them.

Malaysia, a country of 28 million, relies heavily on foreign labor, with an estimated two million foreigners working legally and another million illegal workers from countries like Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.

More than 200 migrant workers were interviewed last July for the Amnesty report, which found that some workers were being lured to Malaysia by agents, only to find that the jobs they had been promised did not exist.

Others complained of physical, verbal and sexual abuse, saying their employers held their passports, forced them to work long hours and did not pay the wages they were promised.

The researchers spoke to migrants working in restaurants, construction sites, factories and in homes. They also visited three detention centers around Kuala Lumpur, where they found extreme overcrowding and a lack of beds, access to clean water and medication.

Amnesty said that many of the migrant workers were victims of human trafficking, and that in some cases immigration officials were involved. Last year, the United States State Department included Malaysia on a list of countries that do not comply with minimum standards of combating trafficking.

The caning of illegal migrants was also condemned in the report, which states that almost 35,000 migrants were caned between 2002 and 2008.

We are seeing not only exploitative and abusive acts by recruitment agents and employers but really a failure on the part of the state to secure the human rights of those workers who are subject to these forms of abuse, said Michael Bochenek, the reports author and director of policy at Amnesty.

The group is calling on the government to reform labor laws, increase workplace inspections and improve standards at detention centers.

The nations human resources minister, S. Subramaniam, denied that foreign workers faced discrimination, telling The Associated Press that they had the same rights and protection as Malaysian workers. He said they could bring complaints of mistreatment to the Labor Department, The A.P. reported.

The government has said that it wanted to reduce reliance on foreign labor, but employers have repeatedly called for more foreign workers, saying that they cannot find enough local workers to fill positions.

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