Thursday, February 22, 2007

But if the intention is to lock (migrant workers) up, it will not be acceptable."

Report: Malaysian leader says no curtailing migrant workers' freedom of movement

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's prime minister said his government will not take steps to "lock up" foreign migrant laborers, news reports said Friday, following proposals by officials to curb workers' movements.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said concerns about crime involving foreign workers should be discussed further before any measures are implemented, The Star and the New Straits Times reported.

If any such step is "beneficial to all parties, including the workers, then there is nothing wrong in implementing it," Abdullah was quoted as telling Malaysian reporters during a visit to Indonesia on Thursday. "But if the intention is to lock (migrant workers) up, it will not be acceptable."

He said police efforts to regulate laborers' movements would violate the migrants' basic rights.

Abdullah's aides could not be immediately reached Friday for further details.

Relatively affluent Malaysia has long attracted migrant workers, many fleeing poverty, from countries including Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and China. Many do menial plantation or construction work spurned by most Malaysians.

Some Malaysians have blamed foreign workers, mostly Indonesians, for crime and social problems. The government has said about 1.8 million foreigners work legally in the country, while an estimated 700,000 others lack proper documents.

Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahamad said last week his ministry intended to propose a bill next month calling for the confinement of about 2.5 million foreign workers.

Malaysian police Chief Musa Hassan said the proposal was meant to curb crime by monitoring workers' activities and restricting their movements.

He said foreigners committed 5,000 of the 230,000 crimes recorded last year.

Under the proposed legislation, the workers would not be allowed to leave their living quarters — usually makeshift housing within construction sites, hostels near factories or houses in oil palm plantations — unless they register with their employers, who would be responsible for their movements.

Malaysian and international rights groups have condemned the idea, saying it could appear to be racial profiling and worsen migrant laborers' living conditions.