Living With Fear and Unclear Status


Rohingya's Refugee Met Gil da Silva(An Article  on Myanmar Refugees and Indonesian Workers in Malaysia) KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, by Julio Gil da Silva Guterres – According to the Human Right Declaration, Article 19 clearly states that; everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The article clearly states that every human being has the right to access to information through any means available such as Radio, Television, Newspaper and Internet. Malaysia is also a signatory of the declaration.

Saharuddin Adnan in interview with Gil da SilvaAccording to Saharuddin Adnan, Industrial Relations Officer at the Electronic Industry Employees Union (Kesatuan Sekerja Elektronik Wilayah Selatan, commonly known by its Malay acronym, KSIEWBSM) says over 80 % of the migrant workers in malaysia their right have been violated as the factories creates a very chaotic policies over the workers.

Based on the current report of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) shows that Malaysia has reached 2.1 million   of registered migrant worker which indicates that Malaysia became one of the largest importer of labour in Asia. Despite this number many people believes that around 1 million of them are still unregistered.

The report shows that the migrant workers currently come from more than 12 countries in Asia, with the majority coming from Indonesia. Other major source countries include Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines.

KSIEWBSM is focusing their monitoring and advocacy on the Indonesian workers that is working in an American electronic factory called Western Digital (WD) which is employing over 12.000 Indonesian female workers.

A winner of the ‘Best Employer in Asia 2009’ award, Western Digital, is a Manufacturer of electronic components including semiconductors and hard disk drives.

Indonesian Female Workers Saharuddin’s statement brought me a challenge of how I can meet up with Indonesian workers for a chat and this is how it all began.

Most of the Indonesian workers living in four different places in Kuala Lumpur such as Sungei Way, Cheras, Bukit Kemuning and Puchong. They are occupying around 440 Hostels which is arranged  by the Western Digital Company.

I was asked by Saharuddin to be in KL Sentral Monorail at 16.00PM on the following day, as he is willing to bring me to Sungei Way, Selangor,  one of the biggest community of the Indonesian female worker in Kuala Lumpur. We were then take another LRT (Light Rail Transit) from KL Sentral to Kelana Jaya (both Monorail and LRT are the cheapest public transport in Kuala Lumpur).

We arrived at Sungei Way at around 19.15 PM, time where the workers are heading back their Hostels at Selangor hill after 12 hours working.

That evening seemed tense, especially when I entered the hostel with a black bag and a camera in my hand, some workers who were walking towards their hostel looked quite scared and worried.

I was then introduced to a beautiful faced girl, Saritia, a twenty -three -years- old , as she has the longest stay among others. She was brought to Malaysia in 2007 by an Indonesian local company  called PT. Mutiara Karya Mitra Medan (commonly known by its Indonesian acronym, MKM) to work as a  line operator at the electronics giant company Western Digital.

According to a Local Executive in Western Digital, confirmed that PT. Mutiara Karya Mitra Medan is one of the official agents of overseas recruitment for the Western Digital in Indonesia.

Furthermore, saritia with her indonesian language says, “yang menjadi sisi negatif bagi saya disini adalah kurangnya kebebasan di asrama” “The negative side for me here is the lack of freedom in the dorm”.

Saritia with a sad look on her face said that they are not allowed to owned electronic devices in their hostels such as laptop, Television, DVD player or even cupboard.

We are only equipped with a plastic drawer in our dorm, no TV or Laptops” she says with her weak voice. “That is what I feel for now, my salary has just promoted to 588 MR because I have no more debt left with MKM”.

Saharuddin added that Malaysia is a signatory to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and a signatory to the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, adopted by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in January 2007. Yet, oppression, violence against migrant workers are always ignored.

Article 8 of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, states that governments shall “promote fair and appropriate employment protection, payment of wages, and adequate access to decent working and living conditions for migrant workers.”

“After completed my secundary school at SMU PGRI 13 Medan, I was  then shortly recruited by MKM as the promised was to earn good money here, but during my first three years, I was only  earned 450MR per month (equivalent to US$150), as the rest of the money went to the MKM for my loan” She explained.

Workers Plastic DrowerThe workers recruited when  they were still 18 years of age or still sitting at high school.

We have no other choice at that time, they came to our school when we were still very young, we feel very attracted by the promise given by the agent” Sari confessed

Based on their confession, it is very hard for them to leave the factory at this time as many of them are still bound by the MKM debt to be paid.

Saritia then introduce her co-worker, Diana, a fresh-faced youth in her early twenties. She was fearful and speechless in the beginning, before she was convinced that her picture would not be included in the story.

Diana comes from the same city as Saritia and was recruited by the same agent. Like her colleague, Diana finally dared to express her feelings.

Abang, yang sangat menyedihkan tuh adalah tidak adanya hari libur bagi kami”, the saddes thing  for us is that there is no holiday. said the girl that was born on December 25th, 1989.

I’ve been here for three years, but have not even returned to Indonesia. I do not even go to church on Christmas Day, the day I was supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ and also my birthday” Diana said, before she finally left  me and Saharuddin.

One of the biggest issues that was recently raised by Malaysiakini and known as the national issue in the country is the work permit for the migrant workers.

In response to Malaysiakini’s news report, Western Digital’s vice-president of human resources in Asia Michael Meston acknowledges that the company is facing a “permit backlog”.

Currently Western Digital is working closely with Malaysian immigration to expedite the permit backlog,” Meston said in a letter that sent to Malaysiakini last May.

Again, a Local Executive confirmed that in early June this year, Western Digital has provided 140 work permit to the Indonesian worker who has worked for about two years. There are only 500 of them still in the process of getting work permit and WD is now working very hard with the immigration to issue them ASAP” he stressed.

On my last interview at that women’s hostels, Anabagur, a twenty – eighth – years – old, who was also brought by MKM on November 5th, 2009 claimed that they have been demanding for the work permit for almost 2 years before they were issued in early June.

We were only move from our hostels and the factory during that period of time, and advised to wear our tags  all the time” She said. “We were only given a work permit with a duration of 3 months, however, is fair enough rather than nothing at all”.

Bar Council, a legal aid organization in Malaysia which often helps restore the conditions of migrant workers, also said that their organization received numerous complaint in daily basis  from migrant workers and most of them are coming from Cambodia and Indonesia.

Angie Tong Mood Mei, Legal Aid Consultant from Bar Council, who is currently giving a legal assistance to the non-governmental organizations Tenaganita, said: work permit is always a complex issue among migrant workers in Malaysia, given that their passport confiscated by their employer.

Most of the complaint issues are about unpaid wages, long working hour and sexual abused” She added.

Angie Tong also states that Bar Council through it is counterpart Tenaganita used to give them counseling and  always using legal option to rescue the workers from some specific circumstances such as physical abused or sexual harassment.

Tenaganita is a Malaysian NGO that protects and promotes the rights of women, migrants and refugees.

Living as a migrant worker or as a refugee in Malaysia is full of fear, sometimes they have to deal with the security authorities and the Volunteer Corps (Relawan Rakyat Malaysia, commonly known by its Malay acronym, RELA).

RELA has the authority and power to stop any person who they believe to be a terrorist, undocumented migrant, or other undesirable person and arrest them without a warrant, and enter and search premises without a warrant. RELA is greatly feared by migrant workers and refugees in Malaysia.

In a separate interview with a couple from Pakistan who is believed to have sold their two houses claiming that husband has twice been arrested by RELA since he lacks of work permit.

Faiza who is known as a wife to the Mansoor Ahmad confirmed that they are now living in a complicated situation as they find themselves confused to survive in Malaysia.

Currently Faiza and her husband resides in Sunway, Mentari Court, Kuala Lumpur with their nine – years – old  Son, who until now has never been to any school due to their limitations. “We are Ahmadiyya Islam, the most isolated group in Pakistan”.

“We currently do not have any resident permit, since our arrival on December 4, 2010, We have to find way to stay here, because we can not go back to Pakistan as we do not have anything left” says Faiza with full of tears. “We were badly tortured in Pakistan, my husband was burned alive, but he survived after we rushed him to hospital”.

It is very hard for a foreigner to get a residence permit or applying for the malaysian citizenship.

According to the Malaysian Consitution, Article III, states that; Those applying to become naturalised citizens must have “an adequate knowledge of the Malay language” and have resided in the country for ten of the past twelve years, including the twelve months immediately preceding the application.

Angelon Celiz, a former Filipinos citizens beginning to come to Malaysia as a migrant worker and worked as a baby sister in a house at Kota Raya, Kuala Lumpur. Having waited 15 years, she finally obtain Malaysian citizenship.

“My husband is a Malaysian, maybe that’s what makes me easier to get Malaysian citizenship” she said.

Currently, Celiz settle the rest of her life by selling snacks and acecoris in public places such as churches or shcools that can reliably get some income.

“I’ve a quiet good life, have two kids and husband, but also pity for the young migrant workers who have been working here for several years, yet, they do not have any work permit,” said Celiz by ending our conversation.

Aegile Fernandes, A senior activist and a founder of Tenaganita, when met at her office at 38 Jalan Gasing, 46.000 Petaling Jaya,  said that government is currently applying an amnesty period over the migrant worker in Malaysia.

There are three alternatives offered to the unregistered migrant workers in the country, first one is asking to return home, secondly, registering within three weeks or deported back to country of origin” quoted Fernandes.

Currently Malaysia has no Foreign Workers Act or other similar law that unifies regulation of migrant worker issues in one law. AS the result migrant workers affairs are regulated through a series of immigration laws and regulations, supplemented by policies from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) which issues work permits, and labor laws overseen by the Ministry of Human Resources (MHR).

According to the Malaysian Immigration Act 1959/63 or so call Act 155 clearly states that ‘Every immigration officer shall have the authority and powers of a police officer to enforce any of the provisions of this Act relating to arrest, detention or removal’.

Malaysian Government does not have a comprehensive legal and policy framework to regulate the recruitment, admission, placement, treatment, and repatriation of migrant workers.

Despite the large presence of migrant workers in the country, Malaysia also have to deal with more than 94,000 refugees who came from certain countries that experienced political and military conflicts.

Migrant Workers and Refugee have become inseparable issues that often debated by media and the public in Malaysia.

Lia Syed, Executive Director of Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI) in a 60-minute interview with SEAPA (Southeast Asia Press Alliance) Fellow says that besides the issue of migrant worker, Malaysia should admit that one of the biggest problems to be solved is refugees because it relates to the dignity and human values.

Based to our current research, there are 94.000 registered refugees in the country and 90 % of them are from Myanmar, the other 10 % are from Sri Lanka, Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians, Somalis and Lebanese” says Lia.

MSRI is a non governmental organisation established with its objective to promote an understanding and appreciation of Muslim and other communities in various parts of the world in pursuance of humanitarian rights and to conscientise the public and mobilize support for people struggling for self determination and suffer from war or other forms of dispossession.

According to Lia, MSRI has a center of refugees at Ampang Point, Kuala Lumpur that accommodates 800 people for the minority refugees except Myanmar. “People from Myanmar are very well organized specially Chins Community, they help one another in their community” She explained.
In every corner in Kuala lumpur we will surely meet with refugees from Myanmar, specially Rohingya’s as they are the largest community in Malaysia.

Mohd Salim Bin Mohd Hussein, a Rohingya’s regufee, who came to Malaysia with his uncle when he was only 7 years old, says he was never went to any school during his entire life.

“I am 31 years old now, I never go to any school, I just learned english myself and I am currently working as a gardener at Qatar Embassy since 2005” he confidently says.

Even after spending 24 years in Malaysia, Mohd Hussein still holds UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) card as the only identity to settle his life in Kuala Lumpur.

Another bad luck happened to Mohd Bin Nabi Hussain, who entered Malaysia  from Thai border since 2007, but until now he does not received any single identity including UNHCR Card.

In our conversation, Nabi Hussain, visible to be give up. “Every time I go searching for work employer used to ask for my identity or Passport”.

Nabi Hussain was given a travel permit from the Rohingya Community couple months ago, but he thought the letter could not fairly represent his full identity.

Living as refugees, by getting UNHCR card is already more than secure, because Malaysia views unregistered refugees as illegal immigrants since the country has yet to sign the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, ratified by more than 140 nations.

Lia, who already handling the affairs of refugees for over 30 years adds, legally, refugee does not exist in Malaysia. “It is very difficult, they are not legal here if they work, they work illegally, UNHCR here just because government allows them to be here”.

With my poor malay, I ventured myself to meet myanmar’s immigrant.

Masjid Bin Fazal Ahmed, a Rohingya regufee who is currently residing in Ampang Hilir area also tells his story with full of compassion.

Masjid with his Malay says, he arrived in Malaysia in 2000 and was only able to get UNHCR card after three years.

“Saya telah dimasukkan ke Malay, melalui Bangladesh dan Thai sebagai kedua-dua negara ini adalah sempadan negara saya”.  “I was entered to Malaysia, through Bangladesh and Thailand as this two countries are bordering with my home country”.

Masjid has been blessed with an eighth – months old daughter named SAJITA. He hopes that someone would give him a hand by raising her beloved daughter.

“My job is just cutting grass, sometime I only make 450MR in a month, where it can not meet my families need, specially some extra milk for SAJITA” Says Masjid in his Malay. “I do not want to go back to Myanmar”.

Masjid and his family staying in a rental house in Jalan Karanchi 2, Ampang Hilir, Kuala Lumpur. He doesn’t have any resident permit even though he has living in Malaysia for almost 12 years.

One last hope that came out from Masjid’s mouth is he wish his daughter to get a Malaysian citizenship because she was born in Hospital Kuala Lumpur.

Elodie Voisin, through her two year experiences at Tenaganita  in refugee desk says, refugee issues in the country is totally ignored by Malaysian government.

Tenaganita may not able to provide them assistance, however we give them respect” Elodie said.

Moreover, Elodia in her challenging voice says, the government never recognize Tenaganita’s work, yet it is just an excuse for the government to keep silent on the lives of the refugees. “We always strive to provide legal assistance to both the migrant worker or refugee, as we realized that all men have equal rights”.

The same preoccupation coming from Lia, she says Government is discriminating the people through the law.

I call them a suspended life, the kids can not go to school, every right for life have been limited. All of the refugee here they hope for the resettlement, what be really need is for the government to recognize that all these refugees are special group”. Lia appealed.

Lia states, Malaysian government should do a resettlement over the refugee child as Malaysia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and has ratified five of the eight core ILO Conventions and also a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

CRC Act, Article 4 (Protection of rights) clearly states that: Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. When countries ratify the Convention, they agree to review their laws relating to children. This involves assessing their social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services. Governments are then obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that the minimum standards set by the Convention in these areas are being met.

Sometimes an article or study is not able to change a reality, but at least a silence voice should be voiced.

Behind the atmosphere of confusion, fear and ignorance of the future of Burmese children that being abandoned from the  right to education and happiness, nowadays, a hope has coming back from one of the Burmese political prisoners who had just arrived January 2011 to build a dream of the bright future through basic education.

Myatkoko, a political prisoners from Rangon, Burma. After being released from his eight years in prison, he finally decided to come to Malaysia to lead an elementary school that was founded by Burma Refugee Organization (BRO).

Burma Refugee Organization School or so call BRO School, currently accommodating burmese children ranging from age 4  – 16 years old.

Myatkoko who currently serves as principal at the school, said BRO School consists of six standards. Each standard there are about 14 to 20 pupils.

Myatkoko came with his wife Su Nyein Nandar koko, who also became a volunteer teacher at the school which accommodates more than 70 burmese.

BRO School is currently gain a lot of attention from the community including UN agency, UNHCR. “95 % of the School’s facilities are donated by UNHCR” Myatkoko said.

Proof of this statement can be found in one branch of BRO School located in Puchong, Kuala Lumpur. There, we can find more than 20 computers donated by the UNHCR, including school supplies and clothing.

Bro school also provides a separate hostels for boys and girls, mainly for those who are entrusted by their parents to stay at School’s dorm.

Ali, a 12 -years -old boy, who is sitting at Standard III, also share his  happiness by saying, “I love BRO School, I want to be a football  player, my favorite player is Wayne Rooney”.

Aziza, a cute 11-years-old, who was born in Malaysia was deeply happy to meet her fellow students every day.

“I am very happy and I want to be a nurse” she expressed in her little english.

Two decades have passed, decades where voice of their father and mother never  being ignored, whether we should close our ears and eyes to the cries of their children. Children, who do not understand about the refugees and the difference? This should be a question for all. It is your liberty to answer and should be an answer of FREEDOM. (End)* This article was written under Southeast Asia Press Alliance – SEAPA Fellowship Project 2011.

Julio da Silva Guterres, B.A. is a  SEAPA Fellow and an Alumni of US Department of State for International Visitor Leadership Program – IVLP. +670 7250761 or gil.silva@cjitl.org

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