Don’t call them ‘illegal migrants’ – call them undocumented migrants

Don’t call them ‘illegal migrants’ – call them undocumented migrants

Illegal migrants – this is not right for there can be no human being that is illegal.

The correct…progressive phrase to use is ‘undocumented migrants’ – i.e. referring to migrants whose entry and presence in Malaysia have not been documented in accordance to law. Or maybe their documents that permitted stay is no longer valid. Or maybe, they just do not have any documents…

Their entry…or maybe their continued presence may be against the law – illegal, BUT that cannot make them illegal migrants. They could be migrants that have entered the country illegally, or who have stayed here illegally – but they should never be called illegal migrants.

Let us STOP calling them illegal migrants or immigrants – used the more dignified term, i.e. documented or undocumented migrants/immigrants. The other term used sometimes by the UN and ASEAN is ‘irregular migrants’, but I still prefer the term ‘undocumented migrants’.


The Immigration Department detained 216,373 illegal immigrants from 2005 to 2008, of which 191,583 have been deported.

The largest group of illegals were from Indonesia with 104,026, followed by the Philippines with 32,687, Myanmar with 18,986, Bangladesh with 14,433 and Thailand with 9,481.

“This staggering number shows that there is no effective system in place to send back illegal workers,” said Klang member of parliament Charles Santiago, in a reaction to the answer provided to his written question in parliament on how many illegals were deported.

The DAP lawmaker said that the high incidence of illegal foreign workers will depress wages and called for an “effective exit strategy” to be made available to them.

The incidence of illegal foreigners has been a source of concern, especially in Sabah where it is claimed by opposition politicians that they now outnumber local residents.

The use of foreign labour has also come under criticism for increasing competition with locals for jobs as well as undermining wages as foreign workers are seen as more willing to accept lower pay.

There are an estimated two million foreign workers in Malaysia. The home ministry has set a target of reducing this number to 1.5 million by 2015.

In a recent report, Home Ministry deputy secretary-general Datuk Raja Azahar Raja Abdul Manap said that an average of 250 permits for foreign workers were approved daily for the first two months of this year down drastically from 800 last year.

In an effort to reduce dependency on foreign workers, the government announced in the mini-budget recently that it would double the levy on foreign workers, a move that was widely criticised by some employers who claim that they are unable to find locals who are willing to work in dirty or low paying jobs. – Malaysian Insider, 23/3/2009, Over 200,000 illegals nabbed in past 3 years

Interesting figures, but there must be some more questions asked:-

a) How did these migrants become ‘undocumented migrants’?
– Did they come into the country validly with an entry visa, and then were cheated by their agent/employer who did not get them the ‘promised’ work permit [Pas Lawatan(Kerja Sementara) – PLKS ]

– Did they have a work permit [Pas Lawatan(Kerja Sementara) – PLKS ], and it expired and was not renewed?
– Were they arrested by reason of not having their original passports with them and no employer/agent came forward with the proper pasport and visa – and as such they were classified ‘undocumented’ and deported?
– Are they really asylum seekers and refugees, which Malaysia may not want to openly recognize as they come from some ASEAN member country, and Malaysia really do not not want to jeopardize its relationship with that ASEAN country?

b) How many of these migrants were charged in court – and how many were not? Why the differential treatment?

c) How many of these migrants were ‘whipped’ before they were deported?

d) How many months did they spend in Detention Centres before being deported?

e) Why 191,583 out of 216,373 were deported? What happened to the rest?

f) Were the employers of these 216,373 undocumented migrants identified and action taken against these employers? How many of these employers were charged? [Unfortunately, very few employers are investigated…let alone charged, and as such they will again employ undocumented workers for very very low wages…Many arrested undocumented migrants gets ‘whipped’ before being deported – and errant employers are not even investigated…let alone charged…or tried…or convicted?]

g) How much money was expended for the detention and deportation? Who paid for this? Was the money recovered from those who employed these migrants? Or from those who brought these migrants into Malaysia?

Maybe, it is time we change our way of doing things…

Rather than arresting, detaining…and deporting, maybe we should just document and register them as migrant workers. As they are already in the country, it will save the potential employer much money as the employer will not be required to pay the incoming airfare and cost, etc..

Maybe, we should also allow potential workers to enter the country with social visit passes, and seek employment here. If they find employment within 30 days, then their employer must immediately register them as workers, and the said worker will be issued a work visa. If they cannot find work within 30 days, then they will have to leave …or maybe apply to extend their visa. This is done in neighbouring Thailand…

For asylum seekers and refugees, who really escaped their home country ‘illegally’ and are many a times here in Malaysia without any documentations, maybe compassionate caring Malaysia can accord them special ‘asylum seeker or refugee status’ and allow them to also work in Malaysia. [There may be more than 500,000 ‘asylum seekers and refugees’ in Malaysia coming mainly from Burma, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, Aceh (maybe no more or less), …]

No human being is illegal – and it is wrong to call any human beings…including migrants illegal.Don’t call them ‘illegal migrants’ – call them undocumented migrants.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: