Yangon – Myanmar’s government has requested Malaysia’s assistance in repatriating illegal workers after eight suicides of undocumented migrants from Myanmar.
Thousands of unregistered migrants are stranded in Malaysia without work due to COVID-19 and because of crackdowns against undocumented foreigners.
On Monday, U Aung Myint, director general of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met Zahairi bin Baharim, the Malaysian ambassador, to request Malaysian cooperation to bring home undocumented workers, according to the ministry.
U Aung Myint told the ambassador that Myanmar would send relief flights to bring home undocumented workers if Malaysia approved.
Myanmar also asked Malaysia not to fine those returning home.
Baharim said he would reply after reporting to Malaysia’s foreign ministry.
Myanmar arranged the ambassadorial meeting after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman failed to present a repatriation plan to the media on Friday.
Thousands of undocumented migrants in Malaysia who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 have been suffering from hardships exacerbated by a crackdown against illegal foreign workers.
On June 21, a 42-year-old from Tanintharyi Region committed suicide in Kuala Lumpur after losing his job, said U San Win, chairman of Kathpone Free Funeral Service Society in Kuala Lumpur.
A 22-year-old undocumented migrant from Mawlamyine Township in Mon State committed suicide in Kuala Lumpur on June 18.
Six other undocumented migrants from Myanmar have committed suicide in late May and early June.
Of the more than 550,000 migrants from Myanmar in Malaysia, an estimated 250,000 are undocumented, according to U Aung Zaw Min, a labor attaché at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
He recently said up to 50,000 of the undocumented workers cannot find work.
At the Friday press conference, the ministry’s permanent secretary U Soe Han said the government faced difficulties in bringing undocumented migrants home since they were illegal workers and could face action under Malaysia’s immigration law for illegally staying in the country.
The ministerial spokesman added that the ministry had instructed the embassy to help nationals facing hardship in Malaysia.
The embassy could not be reached for comment.
In Malaysia, undocumented workers are often jailed for three to six months and then held at immigration centers until their citizenship is confirmed by their embassies.
After their citizenship is confirmed, they are sent home.
So far nearly 400 undocumented workers were deported on two May 11 flights chartered by the Malaysian government after serving prison terms for staying in the country illegally.
Malaysia also told Myanmar it wanted to send home more than 3,000 additional detainees being held at immigration detention centers.
U Soe Han said on Friday that the ministry was having difficulties bringing home those 3,000 detainees.
U Htoo Chit, an executive director of the Thai-based Foundation for Education and Development, who is helping about 500 migrants in Malaysia to return home, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that more suicides, trafficking and fraud were expected if the government fails to address the issue.
“Our government should urgently bring home undocumented workers facing hardship, regardless of whether they are legal,” said U Htoo Chit, a migrant rights activist.
There are about 3.5 million migrants from Myanmar in Thailand.
Due to cooperation between the governments of Thailand and Myanmar, approximately 2.2 million migrants have been legalized since 2010, according to migrant rights groups in Thailand.
The legal status allows migrants to travel more easily back to Myanmar and undocumented migrants can now be transferred to Myanmar without being jailed.
However, Malaysian-based labor attaché U Aung Zaw Min said previous attempts to legalize workers from Myanmar were rejected by Malaysia because they only made up a small proportion of the 2.2 million illegal migrants in Malaysia.
A 29-year-old undocumented worker Ko Aung Thu Win from Myanmar’s Bago Region who has been working in Malaysia for two years told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that due to COVID-19 and crackdowns against illegal foreign workers, 25 out of 30 workers from Myanmar, including him, were sacked from the restaurant where they worked in late March.
He said three colleagues rented a room at the Kuala Lumpur restaurant for 100 ringgit (US$23) per person.
“Now we depend on a friend, who is a legal worker and has a job, for our daily meals,” said Ko Aung Thu Win.
He added: “We want to go home if illegal workers are not allowed to work. Now many employers are not taking on undocumented workers due to the crackdown. We want our government to bring us home by negotiating with the Malaysian authorities.”
Ko Aung Thu Win added: “All undocumented workers would be happy if they are allowed to go home.”
Another undocumented worker Ko Nay Myo Naing from Rakhine State told The Irrawaddy that he was sacked on March 18 with four others from Myanmar from their restaurant and they lost their accommodation at the restaurant.
He said around eight migrants from Myanmar are now sharing a single room.
“I am eager to go back home. I feel depressed as I have had no work for nearly four months,” said Ko Nay Myo Naing.