DHaka: As many as half-a-million Bangladeshi migrant workers face an uncertain future in Malaysia following a crackdown on illegal immigrants in the country.
The operation, dubbed Ops Mega 3.0, started on Saturday when the 3+1 voluntary surrender program for illegal immigrants ended.
The 3+1 program began in 2014 and allowed illegal immigrants who surrendered voluntarily to obtain a special pass for 100 Malaysian ringgits ($24) and be charged a compound fee of 300 ringgits, which would enable them to return home without prosecution.
According to the local TV network NST, 840,000 illegal immigrants have surrendered through the program, including 148,774 who surrendered this year.
“I applied to legalize my papers about 10 months ago and spent $1,300, said Mohammad Shohag, a Bangladeshi worker living in Kuala Lumpur for the past three years.
“In the past last 10 months I have visited the immigration office at least 20 times, but have yet to receive permission from the authority. “I am worried what happens if the police come to me,” he said.
Shohag and his colleague Mahfuj Ahmed are frightened to leave their workplace and sleep on the floor of the shop.
“Bangladeshi employers are facing a lot of trouble from the Malaysian immigration department and they don’t provide any timely service due to a bureaucratic problem,” said Bangladeshi immigrant businessman Abdullah Al-Mamun, who has lived in the country for 23 years.
Al-Mamun, Shohag’s employer, said: “Every time I visited the immigration authority along with my employees. But they (immigration authority) have kept our papers pending for 10 months.
“Now I am waiting for the moment to get the call from the authority to receive permission for my workers.”
At the outset of the crackdown, the Malaysian authority adopted a tough stance on Mega 3.0 operation.
“The amnesty deadline will not be extended. We will intensify our operations against illegal immigrants starting on Friday. We have given them ample time to sign up for the program,” said Datuk Mustafar Ali, Malaysian immigration director-general, on Thursday.
Ali Haider, former secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agents (BAIRA), told Arab News: “Illegal migration always hampers the legal migration process of the workers. We are dead against of this sort of migration.”
He said “illegal syndicates” are depriving poor workers struggling to legalize their visa status in Malaysia.
Syndicates that treat workers like “modern-day slaves” will be targeted in the operation, Mustafar said.
The immigration department arrested 28,063 undocumented immigrants and 799 employers in 9,200 raids between January and Aug. 15 this year, he said.
Several sources in Malaysia said over one-third of those arrested were likely to be Bangladeshis.
Bangladesh’s High Commissioner in Malaysia, Shahidul Islam, told Arab News he had no knowledge of the Malaysian government’s operation.
“It is obvious that the authority will run a drive against illegal migrants. They (Malaysian authority) conduct this type of operation throughout the year,” he said.
The Bangladesh mission chief confirmed that about 1 million Bangladeshi workers are living in Malaysia.