Malaysia warns no more delays in purge of illegals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 February, 2005, 12:00am

From tomorrow, 800,000 foreign workers will be targeted

Officials yesterday vowed to press ahead with a massive crackdown on an estimated 800,000 illegal foreign workers from tomorrow, despite an eleventh-hour appeal from Indonesia to defer the exercise.

The operation has been delayed at least four times since last October after appeals from Jakarta, raising anger in Malaysia that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's government was 'kowtowing' to Indonesian pressure.

Indonesian Manpower Minister Ismail Fahmi on Saturday delivered President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's letter to Mr Abdullah.

'This time we are absolutely serious ... there is no delay, no false starts,' said Malaysian Home Minister Azmi Khalid. 'Whatever the letter's contents, the [crackdown] deadline will not be changed.'

Newspapers had warned the government against another postponement.

'The government's credibility is seriously at stake after it blew the trumpets once too often,' The Sun daily said in an editorial. 'Hopefully, March 1 will be the day when words are matched by deeds.'

The government has prepared a taskforce of 350,000 civilian volunteers to rid the country of its illegal foreign workers. The force, known as Rela, will be assisted by police and immigration officials.

Experts have warned of the threat of serious human rights violation because Rela's untrained members have been vested with powers to enter, search and arrest.

'They are not fit for this kind of heavy work, which is usually done by the police,' said Irene Fernandez, director of an NGO working with migrant workers. 'Human rights abuses are inevitable.'

The government recently gave Rela extended powers to carry small firearms, and raid and search premises without search warrants.

'We also have the power to arrest Malaysians who harbour illegals,' said Rela director-general Mahadi Arshad. 'We are prepared and ready to fulfil our mission of ridding the nation of illegals.'

Malaysia has promised to accept back all Indonesian illegal workers who leave the country during the current amnesty period and return with valid work permits.

However, there have been few takers because Indonesia has imposed a 2.99 million rupiah ($2,500) levy on each returning worker.

Malaysian labour experts criticise the fee as unnecessary and too expensive. 'Indonesian Immigration officers also demand 1 million rupiah in bribes just to stamp the passport,' said a Malaysian labour activist.