I was very glad to read Charles Hector's arguments in Recognition of refugees is but the beginning.
Malaysians have been simplifying the situation of undocumented workers in the country right before the massive crackdown on illegal immigrants. Malaysia does not recognise refugee status and pointing out the fact that refugees (although not recognised as such) should not be measured by the same yardstick as economic immigrants is very timely.
However, I was a little disappointed by the absence of the other side of the coin. Sending out 350,000 civilians - some armed with guns - to catch and detain economic migrants is as cruel and inhumane as going after refugees.
Let me draw you a picture. You are an Indonesian domestic worker, virtually enslaved in Malaysia for a mere two-hundred-something ringgit a month. How desperate one must be to sacrifice oneself and leave behind family, friends and home, to work for such a trifle.
Back home, you have debts to the agency that found you a job, and probably more debts for the documents, bureaucracy, and whatever else that may have had to be paid before the trip. You come to Malaysia to work day and night (without long holidays) for some family of strangers who do not want you to make friends '... in case they have bad influence on you'.
I will never believe that 99.9 percent of Malaysian families are always nice and fair to their domestic workers. We, the ordinary Malaysians, get irritated with bad service, rude drivers and stupid acquaintances. How much do domestic workers have to suffer from our moods?
Well, moods and irritations aside, what if you, the maid, cannot find a common language with your employer? What if he harasses you sexually no, I'm not talking about rape, just sticky comments and insulting pinches - and what if your employer is an insensitive jerk who scolds you endlessly and doesn't let one humanly mistake go unnoticed? What would you do?
According to Malaysian law, if you leave your employer, you have to return home. But would you go back to your kids without sufficient money to pay off the debts? Wouldn't you just suffer the injustice and insults? Wouldn't you tolerate the harassment to be able to live up to the expectations of your family, and come back with money and hope for a better life? Would you give up your dreams?
Don't judge these people with idealistic measures which are so easy to apply to others. Try to be in their shoes.
Here you have another scenario. As any legally employed person in this country, you have the right to claim justice in the courts if your employer treats you badly like for example firing you without apparent reason or not paying your salary.
However, Malaysian immigration and labour laws do not seem to be aligned. We can demand our rightful compensation in court, but if you are a foreigner, you have little chance of being allowed to stay in the country until decision in the case is reached.
Such decisions could take many months with chances of receiving compensation virtually non- existent if you happen to be a foreigner. So what would you do then give up and go home empty-handed or keep on fighting for your rights? Do migrant workers even have any rights in this situation?
These are just two possible scenarios of how one can become an undocumented migrant worker in Malaysia. I don't see anything criminal, outrageous or anything worth caning for in these cases. Do you? Let's be honest with ourselves. What if we found ourselves in such a situation, let's say like somewhere in Australia?