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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 13:51 GMT
Malaysia suspends migrant sweep
Illegal Indonesian workers line up at the immigration counters at the Port Klang ferry terminal , 29 Oct
Thousands of illegal workers have already left
Malaysia has put on hold a major crackdown on hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

The authorities were expected to arrest and deport undocumented foreigners after an amnesty expired at midnight (1600 GMT on Monday).

But Malaysian Home Secretary Azmi Khalid told the BBC that at this stage they were simply checking documents and advising illegal workers to leave.

"We are calling it Operation Advice," Mr Khalid said.

"This is because we've found the response from the illegal workers to be quite good. A lot of them have gone back to their country on their own accord.

"If the medicine has been effective, why use a stronger one? We are also respecting the situation faced by the Indonesian government," he said, referring to Jakarta's reported opposition to the plan to deport Indonesians.

IMMIGRANT CRACKDOWN
More than 1m workers in Malaysia illegally, key to construction and other industries
Government has been cracking down since 2002
Ahead of latest deadline, 380,000 people left

The Star newspaper quoted Indonesia's ambassador to Malaysia as saying Indonesia, which has recently been devastated by the Asian tsunami, had asked for an extension of the amnesty.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will shortly visit Malaysia to discuss the issue, Antara news agency said.

Estimates have put the number of undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia at more than one million.

They are mostly Indonesian and Filipino, but also come from the Indian sub-continent. They play an important role in the Malaysian workforce, but have been blamed by the authorities for rising crime.

A three-month amnesty was initially expected to end in December but was delayed until 31 January as a result of the Asian tsunami.

The Star and the New Straits Times newspapers on Tuesday - the day after the new deadline - cited anonymous immigration officers as saying they had received orders not to proceed with the crackdown.

Those illegal workers who had not left in time faced long jail terms, fines of thousands of dollars and whipping with a cane.

"There's something like a dark cloud hanging over migrant workers in Malaysia," Irene Fernandez, head of the Malaysian human rights organisation Tenaganita, told BBC news.

"There's been a total kind of mismanagement of this whole process," she said.

It is unclear whether the amnesty has now been extended once again, or whether the crackdown has been put on hold indefinitely.

Regional intervention

A letter with such a request from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to be delivered to Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Wednesday.

Officials in the Philippines reportedly also said they wanted a one-month extension.

Many immigrants on Monday queued at ports and airports to leave Malaysia before the amnesty expired.

The campaign to arrest illegal workers was to be carried out by thousands of police and civilian volunteers.

Officers were expected to inspect building sites, plantations, factories, restaurants and even private homes with domestic servants to try to arrest them.

Though the government said the operation to arrest illegal immigrants would be carried out humanely, campaigners say the authorities do not have the means to properly control so many poorly trained volunteers.


Are you in Malaysia, or do you have friends or relatives there who are affected by the government's crackdown? Send us your experiences using the form below:

The reason why there are so many 'illegals' in Malaysia is due to corruption and lack of job opportunities in their own home country. Malaysia should allow these people to register for a legal status as immigrant workers. Give them work permits, collect income taxes on their earnings etc, this is better than giving them a harsh punishment of deportation back to where it all began.

Maybe if Malaysia took these steps the they would eventually go home voluntarily and help take back some of Malaysia's wealth & kindness for the betterment of their people back home. After all part of Malaysia's wealth and well being was built on the hard work and determination of these very same people we so easily label as 'illegals'. Come on Malaysia where is your trademark hospitality and kindness?
Richard Fernandez, Bremerhaven, Germany

Foreign workers suffer so much hardship and exploitation in order to earn an honest living
B Huat, Malaysia

Immigrants should just be allowed to register legally here in Malaysia instead of asking them to go back to their country to register before allowing them to come back to Malaysia to work. Foreign workers suffer so much hardship and exploitation in order to earn an honest living. They're human too.
B Huat, Malaysia

While living in Malaysia the past 3 years I have witnessed first hand the dramatic increase in violent crime as reported by many of the local and international media outlets. Without exception, as numerous studies prove, the vast majority of offenders are unemployed illegal immigrants.

Contributing to the problem is the exploitation of these illegal immigrants by many industries that pay substandard wages for high risk occupations such as construction and mining. This results in increased unemployment and reduced opportunities for law abiding residents while providing corrupt organizations with cheap, marginalised labour. This crackdown is long overdue and will serve to protect both legal residents as well as illegal immigrants.
Paul W., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

How about some whipping of the construction company bosses and gang masters for hiring these people? Workers just want to work, but being 'outside' the law as an illegal allows a minority to enter and cause havoc and the majority to be exploited, maltreated and frustrated.

Malaysians want cheap houses and offices but they will not do the work themselves, so immigrant workers are a solution. If so many illegals exist then the government permit and quota system is either at fault or corrupt.
Tim, London

I grew up in Malaysia and was forced, with my family, to flee the country at gunpoint during the bumi putra (renationalisation drive) in the early 80s. Even though I have mixed feelings about Malaysian politics I think they're quite right to take this present action. In our time we witnessed serious crime and civil disturbance generated by non-Malaysians, and it's my belief that you can't simply stand idly by and allow foreign immigrants to tear the place up with their own agendas and social woes. Illegal immigration should not be tolerated, and if there are no suitable jobs in the Philippines or Indonesia, then it is up to those countries and their governments to get themselves into gear, and not down to the Malaysians. The UK should watch and learn.
Alastair Johnson, Oxford, England

The government shouldn't be dilly-dallying about this anymore. The Malaysian people on the streets are sick with the increasing number of Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and Indians on our streets. The crimes, gang fights and other social diseases are getting unbearable. If the government fails to address this issue, then it will be a good excuse to vote out this government in the next election. What is the purpose of having a government if it can't even protect its own people from the influx of foreigners? To our Indonesian and Philippine governments, wake up and buck up. Fix your country. Provide jobs to your own people. It is not the Malaysians' responsibility to provide jobs to your citizens.
Anuar Majid, Kuala Lumpur

I am Malaysian living (legally) living abroad. All my friends back home do not like the presence of illegal immigrants. We don't mind immigrants, after all just under 50% of free-born Malaysians are descended from immigrants, yet we still manage to live harmoniously without genocide. When foreign nationals are present illegally, and then commit crimes, very often the suspects would be very difficult for the authorities to pursue. "Law abiding" illegal immigrants do not pay tax, yet they get almost free hospital treatments when tax-paying Malaysians are on waiting list for medical treatments.

There is a perception in Malaysia that illegal immigrants usually drive up the crime rate. I think this perception is an unfair prejudice. Malaysians commit crimes too. However, we have enough ┐home-grown┐ criminals to have to tackle illegal criminals. Properly regulated economic migration would have significantly reduced this risk as well as the prevailing perception.
Anisah, London

If Malaysia wants to be "Truly Asia" it should allow poor workers from neighbouring countries to work officially.
Abdul Wahid, Kayalpatnam-India

Malaysia's Pak Lah is not suitable to become our Prime Minister. He is soft unlike his predecessor. It seems the real PM of Malaysia is Bambang Susilo. Pak Lah is so afraid of him. Malaysia is not safe any more. We are sliding down to become the haven of illegal immigrants. Look at Chow Kit area, the residential buildings are mostly illegals. What the authorities do? Extort money from them. Just because the Indonesians are Malays, do we have to kowtow to them? Learn from China. They are very stern and cannot tolerate illegal Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong Chinese. Pak Lah if you are too soft, step down!
lianjai, Kuala Lumpur

As a British expatriate in Penang, I see that the Malaysian government have been reasonable and fair in this matter. They have given illegal immigrants fair warning of a crackdown, enough time to leave and the chance to return legally if they can offer a positive contribution to the country. The illegal immigrants can only blame themselves if they stay to face jail, a fine and/or a whipping. Shame the UK government is too yellow-bellied to do the same.
Marcus David, Penang, Malaysia

We cannot afford to have so many illegal immigrants in our country. Many, (of course not all) of them are causing many social ills and all kinds of vice here. I hope the Malaysian government which has always been inconsistent in its deportation plan, takes these deportation measures before this country turns into a hell for crimes. It's time to give back Malaysia some peace and tranquillity.
Danny, Johore

The government should provide a longer grace period for these immigrants to report before started to carry out the punishment. I can understand how Malaysian citizens feel, living in fear everyday. For example the riots that happened at Rawang and Sungai Buloh were caused by conflicts between the Indonesian workers.
Tam, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Malaysian government should not extend the deadline and delay deportation of illegal workers and immigrants. Many of the crimes - especially house-breakings and snatch theft are committed by illegal workers from Indonesia. The government must protect Malaysians from the criminal activities of these people, regardless of any requests by the Indonesian government to extend the amnesty.
Shufiyan Shukur, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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SEE ALSO:
Malaysia orders migrants to leave
21 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Illegal workers leave Malaysia
29 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia rapped over refugees
10 Sep 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia cracks down on migrants
01 Aug 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
14 Jan 05 |  Country profiles


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