Amidst Crackdown, 79 Migrant Workers Arrested in Malaysia

About 30 Cambodians have been seeking refuge at the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, while 79 have been arrested since a crackdown by Malaysian authorities on undocumented migrant workers began earlier this month, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Friday.

“According to information from the Malaysian authorities, 47 Cambodian male workers and 32 female workers were detained in their operations,” the ministry said in a statement.

Malaysian authorities had not yet decided whether they would send the arrested workers to court or deport them, it added, but the embassy had been advised to begin repatriation negotiations.

It is not clear what will happen to the 30 workers sheltered at the embassy.

According to the Associated Press, more than 3,100 foreigners and 63 employers were netted in raids on work sites across Malaysia between July 1 and July 12. Local media reports say authorities gave employers several months to register their workers, but just 161,000 of 600,000 illegal migrants had applied for work permits by the June 30 deadline.

Meas Sin, a 29-year-old textile factory worker from Pursat province, said he had been living in fear at his work-site dormitory in a province near Kuala Lumpur since the crackdown began. His employer had given him a document claiming it would allow him to work in the country for another year, but Mr. Sin was not confident it would protect him.

“It is a work permit, I guess,” he said. “I don’t have a passport in my hand or a visa, [not] even an official work permit,” he added, explaining that his employer had his passport.

He said fellow workers had been rounded up after being approached by plainclothes officers.

“You never know, sometimes the police wear civilian clothes and approach the other workers, then ask them if they have passports or any visas or work permits,” he said.

In a separate statement on Friday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said Malaysia deported 134 Cambodian migrant workers between January and last month.

It said another 445 were arrested over the same period in Thailand, where a similar crackdown to that in Malaysia began in the middle of last month.

The Cambodian Embassy’s consular office in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province repatriated 178 workers, but it was unclear whether those nationals had been part of the 445 arrested, or what would become of those still being detained.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry could not be reached on Sunday.

Chou Bun Eng, vice chair of the Interior Ministry’s anti-trafficking committee, said on Sunday she was in Battambang province’s Kamrieng district to meet with migrant workers at the Doung International Checkpoint on the Thai border.

“[W]e are coming to listen to their stories and hoping to offer necessary support for them,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)

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