Dreams of bright future in Malaysia shatter for workers from Afghanistan, Pakistan

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Delayed wages, harassment, sleeping 20 to a room These are just some of the things migrant workers put up with. It’s in sharp contrast to what recruiters told them they would get out of Malaysia’s vibrant economy.

For the last six months, Asif Tanvir Zia, who is originally from the Rahim Yar Khan district in Pakistan, has been working as a security guard in Kuala Lumpur with a Malaysian security company. Zia is just one of hundreds of young Pakistanis and Afghans who come to Malaysia looking for better career prospects and better wages.

Malaysia, with its Muslim culture and growing economy, is a popular destination for those seeking a brighter future and the youths from Afghanistan and Pakistan often arrive here, via employment recruiters.

Zia tells Afghanistan Today that the recruiter he dealt with promised him great infrastructure and excellent wages. The agent also promised Zia that cars would be at the airport to pick him up. However after waiting for days at the airport, nobody arrived, Zia says.

Additionally the agent promised him a salary of 900 Malaysian Ringgits, or MYRs, a month (around US$200). But he’s actually only managed to save MYR271 (around US$60) over the past four months . And the recruiting agent is keeping his passport. Over the past four months, Zia, who misses his wife and children terribly, says he has been arrested twice for being an illegal immigrant here and was only released after he bribed the police.

“I don’t even know the local language so I can’t tell anyone in authority about my problems,” Zia complains. “I have been abused”.

According to CARAM Asia, a regional network working on migration and health issues, more than half of workers in Malaysia are foreigners, with Pakistanis making up the majority of that. There are no confirmed numbers but figures are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. CARAM Asia also says that over two thirds of migrant workers don’t get their wages on time and many are harassed or sexually harassed.

Murad is a young Pakistani working as a labourer in Malaysia. He says that recruiters told him that their rooms would have air conditioning and be well appointed. Instead, Murad says, they are living 20 to a room, sharing one kitchen and bathroom. And, to add insult to injury, Murad says they have not been paid for three months.

“The embassy staff in Kuala Lumpur don’t help us at all,” Murad says. “The staff are immoral and unkind, as well as in complete contrast to other country’s staff. We demand that our government put pressure on them to do their jobs properly.”

The embassy only works four days a week, Murad notes, which is not enough time to service all the people who need them.

If the migrant workers complain to their employer, they are more than likely to be dismissed; there is no job security here. If a worker is injured they are in an even more difficult position.

Pakistani man, Niaz Ali, came to Malaysia eight months ago. But he was injured on the job six months ago, left with debilitating head wounds. The company he was working for shouldered some of the responsibility for payments to the hospital but refused to pay out any more once the medical bills reached a certain amount. Ali has remained in a Malaysian hospital – where the cost of treatment is higher than in Pakistan and more expensive for foreigners – and he has spent almost all his life savings on doctors and treatment.

And although most of the workers that Afghanistan Today spoke to would like to return home, this is also difficult. Migrant workers say that it can take up to eight days to make any kind of enquiry with the immigration authorities. Sometimes those wanting to apply for permissions end up sleeping in line.

One man, Gul Agha from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province told Afghanistan Today that he had been in the same place for six days waiting his turn with immigration authorities. “These problems are enormous for us,” he said. “I don’t understand why our embassy doesn’t help us out here.”

For the last four years, Zuhair, a labourer from the Buner district in Pakistan, has been working as a window cleaner on some of Malaysia’s many skyscrapers. “I spend my days hundreds of feet high and I work overtime all the time,” Zuhair complains. “I feel like I am giving my youth to Malaysia – and I don’t know what I will have to show for it, when I return home.”

(Originally published in the Afghanistan Today.)

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