PETALING JAYA: From toiling in agriculture fields to building vital infrastructure, migrant workers have tirelessly contributed to Malaysia’s progress, all while striving to build a brighter future for their families back home.

Yet, instead of being met with the warmth of inclusion, these workers are all too often discriminated against by the public. Even enforcement officers randomly stop to check them without good cause.

As the Hari Raya holidays approach, the North-South Initiative, which is a human rights and social justice organisation, has called for humanitarian treatment of migrant workers in Malaysia.

Its executive director Adrian Pereira said every year, there are cases of unjustified arrests and detention of migrants during public holidays.

“This practice violates their rights and tarnishes the spirit of compassion and inclusivity, which is at the heart of human relations.”

According to the Statistics Department, there were some three million migrants in the country as of July 2023, which made up 8.9% of the country’s 33.4 million population.

“Migrants play a significant role in contributing to the development of our country. They often fill labour gaps in key industries, driving economic growth by increasing productivity and expanding employment opportunities.

“Their presence and contributions are integral to Malaysia’s dynamic development and prosperity. But their unjust treatment inflicts suffering and traumatises them.”

Citing a recent incident, he said a Nepali security guard, Sherpa Dawa, was rewarded for handing in a suitcase containing over RM500,000 that he found at a parking lot.

“This just proves that not all of them are bad, and it is crucial to avoid blanket generalisations about migrant workers. A commitment to fairness, empathy and recognising the individuality of each migrant is crucial rather than succumbing to stereotypes or prejudices.”

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Pereira said in recent years, there has been an increase in xenophobic, racist and hateful comments on social media about migrant workers who converge at public places during holidays.

He said the remarks are linked to practices, policies and laws that dehumanise migrant workers and refugees.

“These workers deserve joy, relaxation, love, friendship, leisure and to be part of a community. All individuals, irrespective of their nationality, documentation status, race, or skin colour, deserve to enjoy these same universal rights.

“For migrant workers, public holidays are rare moments to explore and enjoy themselves. Their reality is vastly different from ours, so allow them to use public transport, explore tourist attractions and visit theme parks because they are spending their hard-earned money in our country,” he said.

Pereira emphasised the importance of the authorities ensuring fair and humane treatment of migrant workers, as the current approach of just arresting them perpetuates a cycle of injustice and alienation.

He said instead of resorting to aggressive measures, the authorities should focus on addressing the underlying issues that drive worker migration to Malaysia and foster a more inclusive and equitable society in which their happiness also counts.

“Just arresting them can make things worse. Instead, the authorities could directly contact their employer to confirm their legal status in Malaysia.”

He also stressed that it is important for migrant workers to follow Malaysian laws and regulations while in the country.

“Doing so will help keep the peace and be an expression of their respect for local customs. It will also ensure they are safe from those who wish to (act) against them.

“As we prepare to celebrate Hari Raya, let us be mindful to treat migrant workers well. It is time to end the unjust and discriminatory practices that mark festive seasons, and embrace a more compassionate and inclusive approach towards all members of our society.”

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