Plight of Nepalis in Malaysia: Migrants systematically rendered ‘undocumented’

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Bipul Dangi (name changed) of Rolpa district landed in Malaysia earlier this month to work at Samsung company. But the promise that a manpower agency in Kathmandu made to him was broken once he got there. His salary was not as promised either.

When he refused to work at a construction company instead and asked the employer to give him the job he was offered back in Nepal, Dangi, along with his friends, were whipped almost to death. “At one point, I thought I would never see Nepal again,” he said, recalling his harrowing experience.

The next day, he and his friends mustered the courage to flee from the employer. This daring move not only cost him the nearly Rs 150,000 he had nvested in flying to Malaysia for work, but also meant his becoming an ‘undocumented worker’ as his passport was still held by the employer.

With the little money he had in pocket already spent, Dangi did not have enough to even make out a travel documents to fly back home.

“I reached the embassy with 1,500 Ringgit that I borrowed from another Nepali. And on the way two policemen asked him and a friend for our work permits. As we did not have the documents the police led us to a house corner and took everything we had in our pockets including some money,” said Dangi, his eyes full of tears.

Dangi would not file any complaint with the local authorities as this would only land him in detention for at least six months as an ‘undocumented’ worker. Also, the nexus between the police, manpower recruitment agencies and employers is so strong that there is no guarantee that people like Dangi would get justice in the end.

Dangi’s case examplifies how a large number of Nepali migrant workers are systematically rendered vulnerable to various forms of exploitation in Malaysia. “The police already know that their passports are held either by their recruiting agency or by their employers. This is their tactics for fleecing the migrant workers,” said General Federation of Nepali Trade Unions (GEFONT) President Bishnu Rimal. GEFONT works closely with the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), the only trade union that exists in Malaysia.

The victims say that unscrupulous manpower agencies in Kathmandu and recruitment agencies in Malaysia that work as mediators for the employers dangle ‘lucrative jobs’ to lure youths to Malaysia. But as the migrant workers are not provided the jobs promised and are often forced work in hazardous conditions such as at construction sites, many of them decide to flee the original employer, thus becoming ‘undocumented’.

The ‘undocumented’ status renders the migrants vulnerable to various forms of exploitation . Employers, who readily hire these ‘undocumented’ workers, pay them low wages, force them work more than the normal hours and often ignore their claims for unpaid wages.

The ‘undocumented’ status also places the migrant workers at risk of being arbitrarily arrested, detained, charged, convicted and sentenced to prison.

Former general secretary of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), G. Rajasekaran, said they have been complaining repeatedly to the Malaysian authorities about employers and recruitment agencies seizing the passports and travel documents of migrant workers. “Although Malaysian government officials have repeatedly maintained that passports are the property of the migrant workers and can be withheld only with their consent, the situation has not changed much,” he complained.

What is fishy is that the local authorities take action against the ‘undocumented’ workers but not against employers who employ the ‘undocumented’. “This is nothing but a systematic way of exploiting migrant workers. Leaving the migrant workers without their passports or travel documents makes it easy for both the employers and the police to fleece them. Else, why would they not take action against such employers also?” asked a leader of the Nepali workers in Malaysia on condition of anonymity.

Although the Malaysian government a few months ago introduced a law making such employers liable for up to 10,000 Ringgit in fines, hardly any of them have been prosecuted. “Migrant workers are not at fault in becoming undocumented workers. It is the unscrupulous recruitment agencies and employers, who even refuse to provide photocopies of the documents, that are solely to blame,” said Prem Pandey, president of the Nepali Janapragatishil Manch in Malaysia.

(Originally published in Republica daily, Nepal.)

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