Allowing refugees to work has multiple benefits

  • Letters
  • Thursday, 21 Nov 2019

WE welcome the Human Resources Minister’s statement that a positive announcement with regard to employment for refugees can be expected soon (“Govt to decide on allowing refugees to work in Dec”, The Star, Nov 18; online at We hope this really does happen.

There are many compelling reasons in favour of providing a legal and administrative framework for refugees in Malaysia. The economic benefits this will bring to the country are well documented. A recent Parliamentary briefing also highlighted the advantages. And further reasons for providing such a framework include that it will hugely help in our fight against terrorism, human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Human traffickers are happiest when they are able to prey upon people who are vulnerable and unprotected. The refugee community in refugee camps over the world are obvious recruiting grounds for traffickers of human beings. Furthermore, people fleeing from horrific situations, as in Myanmar, are easy prey for human traffickers.

We all recollect with shame the horrors of the Wang Kelian death camps on our border with Thailand, where thousands of

refugees and immigrants were held, violated, tortured, ransomed, trafficked and many murdered.

And arriving in Malaysia with no protection and no rights continues to encourage human traffickers to prey on the women, men and teenagers who are struggling to find a life away from the genocide they are fleeing.

Human trafficking is also closely linked to modern-day slavery. By making refugees in Malaysia work “illegally” (refugees here have no rights or protection, including at work), we are just exposing people to the strong possibility not just of abduction and being sold by traffickers but also to systematic exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous employers and/or agents. This is again because they have no protection or options, and yet of course have to find work to survive.

By not providing any protection, we are actually institutionalising this situation and allowing an entire population in our country to become vulnerable to human trafficking and modern-day slavery. This is clearly not ideal.

It is not ideal also because this situation is a happy one for recruiters for extremist and terrorist organisations. Where people have little hope and no certainty of the future, where they feel abandoned and ignored, where every day they are worried about being extorted or harassed or detained, the lure to join a group that offers an easy identity and purpose in life is clearly tempting.

Especially in a world where there is ever more craziness and extremism, and where champions of extremist groups are seriously active in countries across our region, we need to do everything we can to ensure people are supported, protected and given an opportunity to live a secure and happy life that will give little encouragement to extremist propagators.

Continuing to allow the refugee population here to live in a limbo land, where they are forced to live day to day, barely surviving, without any legal status, and yet having somehow to survive, does not seem the right way. Human traffickers flourish, modern-day slavery flourishes, and the recruiters for terrorism and extremism flourish.

We can immediately make a huge difference to this. For example, if the minister’s statement is anything to go by and we honour Promise 35 in Buku Harapan of the present government to give rights and protection for work to refugees, this would be a huge win-win for everyone. It would be a boost for our economy, and it would provide an instant and significant response to the activities of human traffickers, extremist and terrorist groups and modern-day slavers.

We remain hopeful that this will happen.


Note: This is a coalition of NGOS and other groups that lobbies for a policy on labour migration in Malaysia

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