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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Malaysia's illegal immigrants face cane
Indonesian immigrants arrested in 1998
Malaysia is trying to reduce immigration
By South-east Asia correspondent Jonathan Head

The Malaysian Government has announced that illegal immigrants could be caned in future if they are caught.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said legal amendments to allow the use of the cane would be submitted to the cabinet to try to deter the growing numbers of those entering the country unlawfully.

Government statistics estimate there are around 600,000 illegal immigrants in Malaysia but unofficial figures put the total much higher.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi
Abdullah Badawi blames immigrants for crime
Most have come from poorer neighbours like Indonesia and the Philippines in search of work.

The impact of the protracted political and economic crises in Indonesia has driven hundreds of thousands to move abroad in search of work.

The most popular destination is inevitably Malaysia - a close neighbour with a similar language and culture but with a much more advanced economy.

Slowing economy

The hunger for jobs has also attracted large numbers of Filipinos to Sabah, the Malaysian area of Borneo which lies close to the southern Philippines.

With a population of just over 20 million, Malaysia does need extra workers to do many of the more menial jobs.

But with the country now badly affected by the slowing economy in the United States, the government is under pressure to control the flow of illegal immigrants.

Mr Badawi accused the incomers of causing more crime and other social problems and he said he would propose increasing the punishment for illegally staying in Malaysia to include caning.

Remains of Filipino slum built on rubbish tip
Filipinos flee poverty at home for jobs in Malaysia

He said the increased penalties would also apply to those who helped to bring illegal aliens into the country.

Given the desperate conditions many of the immigrants are fleeing in their own countries and the difficulty of catching them, it is not clear how effective a deterrent the stiffer penalties will be.

The new policy will also do little to ease the difficulties of those whose jobs are at risk from the economic down-turn.

Most of those are in Malaysia's once-booming high technology sector, which exports heavily to the United States - and that is not an area where poorly-educated illegal immigrants go looking for work.

See also:

18 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Ethnic strife shakes Malaysia
10 Apr 98 | Asia-Pacific
Immigrants invade US embassy in Malaysia
06 Aug 01 | Business
'Two million jobs to go in Asia'
05 Jun 01 | Business
Malaysia premier takes finance job
19 Mar 01 | Business
Growth to slow in Asia
11 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over mobile divorce ruling
24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Call to ban women in Koran contest
13 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian worry over imported brides
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