Daily Star (Bangladesh)/AFP, Nov. 26
Half a million Malaysians in neighbourhood security groups have been told to gather information about illegal immigrants ahead of a crackdown next year, official media reported yesterday.
The civilians have already been given the power to arrest illegal migrants once the sweep against them gets under way — a move described as “ominous” by Human Rights Watch in a statement this week.
The Bernama news agency quoted Home Minister Azmi Khalid as saying the government did not want to victimise migrants but was “disappointed with the poor response” to a recent amnesty programme.
Only 109,000 immigrants had so far taken advantage of the amnesty, which began on October 29, to return to their countries of origin, he said.
Two volunteer security organisations with a total of 560,000 members “had now been asked to gather information on illegal immigrants in their respective areas,” Bernama said.
The amnesty was originally designed to last 17 days, but has been extended until next month at the request of the Indonesian government, whose citizens make up the bulk of illegal workers.
Once it expires, illegal immigrants face jail sentences of up to five years and a whipping. About 9,000 migrants were caned in Malaysia last year, Human Rights Watch said.
The volunteers deployed against the migrants would receive minimal training and would get cash rewards for each migrant arrested, Human Rights Watch said, urging the government to drop the plan to avoid “vigilantism”.
But Azmi said their deployment would make it hard for illegal immigrants to hide or escape arrest, Bernama reported.
There are an estimated 1.2 million illegal immigrants in Malaysia, mainly from neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines but also from India and Bangladesh, who are drawn by jobs in construction, plantation work and services.