There are over 94,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, and they are among the most destitute and marginalized populations in the country.
Refugees do not have the right to work. Their children cannot go to public school. They have very poor access to health care. Poverty and hunger are daily realities. And because they fled from their home countries due to persecution, they cannot return home.
To survive and provide for their families, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia often work in low paying jobs without legal protection. Because their labor rights are not upheld in Malaysia, unscrupulous employers and agents take advantage of them. They use a host of tactics– including deception, withholding of wages, physical confinement, debt bondage, and violence–to force refugees into jobs and keep them from leaving.
Refugees and asylum seekers are all around us in Malaysia. A refugee might have served you coffee this morning in a restaurant. Or built the apartment you are living in.
Unfortunately, forced labor and human trafficking are also all around us in Malaysia. In fact, in a recent study, 61% of refugees and asylums who had worked full-time in Malaysia had experienced forced labor.
How does this affect refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia? Research in Malaysia found that refugees who had experienced forced labor had higher rates of Depression and Anxiety compared to those who had not. It is also known that survivors of human trafficking suffer tremendously, particularly in terms of their health. They are vulnerable to infectious diseases, malnourishment and injuries. Mental health is equally a concern.
Momentum is building around the issues of trafficking and forced labor in Malaysia. The government is waking up to the problems, and civil society is working to create an environment that reduces vulnerability and protects survivors. What is needed now is for more people to take a stand and call for substantial changes in laws, policies and programs in the country.
This is where you can do your part.
Sign the Petition Letter to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, to take a stand against forced labor and human trafficking in Malaysia and to ask for a stronger protection environment for refugees and asylum seekers.
However, we would like to highlight our deep concern regarding the large (+94,000) refugee and asylum seeker population in the country, as they are more vulnerable to forced labor and human trafficking.
In Malaysia, refugees and asylum seekers are not recognized, and they cannot work legally in the country. This makes them more vulnerable to forced labor and trafficking at the hands of unscrupulous employers, agents and recruiters. Without the protection that recognition provides, refugees are afraid to come forward to the authorities. This is because they fear arrest, detention and deportation under Malaysia’s Immigration Act 1959/1963.
In a recent study, 61% of refugees and asylum seekers who had worked full-time in Malaysia had experienced forced labor. Many experienced movement restrictions, withheld wages, withheld documents, induced indebtedness, and other forms of exploitation and abuse. These conditions increase their risk of serious health problems, including infectious diseases, mental health problems and chronic health problems.
Refugees and asylum seekers come to Malaysia seeking safety and security because they experienced persecution in their homeland. Sadly, their lives in Malaysia are ones of poverty, isolation and hopelessness.
We call on the Malaysian government to increase the efforts of combating forced labor and human trafficking by working with other stakeholders, including civil society groups, professional bodies and refugee community organizations, to accomplish the following:
1. Malaysia must establish a system of recognition and labor protection for refugees and asylum seekers, in order to reduce their vulnerability to trafficking and forced labor;
2. Malaysia’s national laws and policies must be harmonized with the international human rights and labor rights instruments it has ratified to ensure that refugees’ and asylum seekers human rights and labor rights are recognized and protected;
3. Malaysia must ensure (both legally and in practice) that all survivors of human trafficking and forced labor, regardless of their legal status, have access to appropriate legal, medical and protection services, and that refugees and asylum seekers will not be refouled (returned to their country of origin);
4. Malaysia must ratify the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in order to advance refugees’ rights in the country.