There are an estimated 212,000 people living in modern slavery in Malaysia (GSI 2018). The majority of those exploited are migrant and undocumented workers in the country. Foreign workers constitute more than 20 percent of the Malaysian workforce and typically migrate voluntarily—often illegally—to Malaysia from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Southeast Asian countries, mostly in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Some of these migrants are subjected to forced labour or debt bondage by their employers, employment agents, or informal labour recruiters when they are unable to pay the fees for recruitment and associated travel.
Rabi, a Nepali worker who arrived in Malaysia in October 2007, took a loan at an annual interest rate of over 40 per cent from a private lender to pay his agent 85,000 Nepali rupees ($1,130). He expected to be able to pay back the loan within one year, based on his agent’s assurance that he would be well paid in Malaysia, but this was not the case. Rabi was not paid for his work and when he was hospitalised in November 2008 for appendicitis, a member of the church he attended paid his hospital bill.
But I have not been able to pay it [the loan] back. I think I’ll end up having to pay back more than 200,000 rupees [$2,665]. If I can’t pay it back, the guarantee the lender will take is my house.
I came here in October 2007, and at first I had a permit for one year. I was brought in under a three-year contract. After that, the employer failed to renew the permit. I continued to work for him, and he continued to deduct the levy, but he did not renew [the permit].
The boss didn’t pay me during the days I was off. The boss paid [me] nothing, then didn’t pay for the hospital. I had to buy medication on my own.
Narrative credit to Amnesty International
Originally published in ‘Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia’