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.
Jose travelled to Malaysia for work through an agent who, unbeknownst to him. had obtained a fake permit. When he tried to return home, he was arrested, and his money was stolen by authorities.
In 2007, I paid an agent in Malaysia 2,500 ringgit [$730] to obtain a work permit for me. I did not know that the permit I had obtained was fake. In 2008, when I was trying to leave Malaysia to Denpasar through KLIA airport, I was arrested because of the fake permit. At the time of my arrest, I had about 750 ringgit [$220] and 6 million Indonesian rupiah [$650] in cash with me. I was taken to the KLIA Immigration Depot, where they recorded my possessions. When I was then taken to court some days later, they returned my possessions, including the money. I found that 1 million rupiah was missing. There was no decision at the court, and I was then taken to the Sepang police station, where I had to deposit my possession again and it was recorded. The police officer there took 390 of my Malaysian ringgit [$115]. Three days later, I was sent to the Sungai Buloh prison, but they did not take any of my money there. I was kept in the Sungai Buloh prison for two months, after which I was again taken to court. This time, the court sentenced me to imprisonment but ordered that since my sentence had already been served, I should be released. I was then taken back to the KLIA depot, where I checked in my cash and possessions. When it was time to leave the KLIA, I found out that all my Malaysian ringgit had been taken. When I complained, the officers told me that I had already signed a document and that I did not have the right to complain. . . . By that time, my airplane ticket had expired, and the ticket could not be used any longer. A friend of mine from outside managed to buy me a new ticket, and I left Malaysia.
Narrative credit to Amnesty International
Originally published in ‘Trapped: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Malaysia’