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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Migrant families take refuge in jungle after E-card raids

SPECIAL REPORT | Ayu*, 25, has been hiding in the jungles since the government launched yet another crackdown on undocumented migrants at the stroke of midnight on June 30.
The smile on her face did not mask the underlying fear of being separated from her husband John*, who holds an Immigration Department’s enforcement card (E-card) - a temporary verification document issued pending approval of his work permit as a construction labourer at a nearby site.
“Most of the men already have their E-card, but we (women and children) are still ‘empty’ (undocumented),” she said, exposing them to threats of arrest and deportation.
Carrying her 16-month-old daughter, Ayu recounted the recent nights spent in the wilderness.
"Now we are sleeping in the jungle and only come up here to cook and take water.
"We have to run up and down (to the jungle). Sometimes in the middle of the night while carrying a baby," she said, when met at a project site about 60km away from Kuala Lumpur, in a neighbouring state.
"If she cries, I am afraid we will get caught. But I will do what I can to calm her down.
“Yesterday night it was raining. We were soaking wet but we just have to survive,” Ayu said. “She (her daughter) has been scratching the mosquito bites until it bleeds."
The project site was also used as a temporary shelter after a fire burnt down their shared living quarters about a month ago.
In one corner hung what was left of their clothes. In another corner, a gas tank and bottles of water indicated their makeshift kitchen space.
A wooden table and a rickety bench were the only other furniture set-up, underneath what appears to be a multi-storey structure still under construction.
The group that met with Malaysiakini, together with the Jakarta-based NGO Migrant Care, originally hailed from a district in Nusa Tenggara Timur - a cluster of islands to the North of Bali, Indonesia.
In search of a better life in Malaysia, they now found themselves forced to survive in harsher living conditions.
Nearly half of the group who came out comprise unemployed women with babies or toddlers in tow.
It is also understood that there are at least 100 others who are also in hiding.
All of the children were born in Malaysia. Most of them are stateless and so being sent home is no guarantee of a better future.
In Ayu's case, her daughter's birth documents from a local clinic were also lost in the fire.
During Malaysiakini’s visit, some of the men were on their lunch break while others revealed they have not been going to work, sacrificing their daily wages as an electrician, carpenter or construction labourer.
It is understood that most of the men are hired by contractors who are appointed by the main project owner, a common industry practice which offers them little protection against any infringement on their basic rights.
Ayu and the other women mostly spend their days taking care of their children.
She first came to Malaysia three years ago as a legal domestic helper but later fled and eventually made her way to the site where she met and married her husband.
According to an Immigration Department advisory, only undocumented migrants who are already employed are eligible to apply for an E-card and they are not allowed to extend the facility to their dependents here.
It was also stated that undocumented migrant workers at the time of application should bring along all their dependents to the immigration office, to facilitate a deportation process.
Help for women, children
With no assistance forthcoming from their employers or the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Migrant Care Malaysia country director Alex Ong said he was contacted by one of the workers on Monday to request for food supplies.
"This area has always been under our watch," said Ong whose organisation was founded in 2004 and has since been actively engaging with Indonesian migrant worker communities in Malaysia.
"We have been in contact with the workers for several years but today's visit was in response to their request for help,” said Ong who distributed baby formula, mineral water and biscuits.
"Our focus now is the women and children. Having to go in and out of the jungles, dealing with the weather conditions…Anything can happen to them,” he said.
He also said that Migrant Care had after the fire incident distributed sleeping bags to the workers but they were afraid to use it.
“They thought the sleeping bags were for dead bodies. But now (in the jungle) they can use it," he said.
Asked whether Migrant Care would advise the workers against having children here, Ong argued that it would be inhumane to do so.
At the same time, he conceded that there is no way to "force" the mothers to register their baby’s birth at the Indonesian Embassy as a safeguard measure, as doing so would automatically earn them a one-way ticket home.
"So they will only go to the embassy when all of the family want to go back for good.
"To force the mothers would be breaking apart their families," he said.
'Gov'ts must work together'
At a policy level, Ong stressed that there are steps which must be taken by both the Malaysian and Indonesian government to address the long-standing issue.
Among others, he said Putrajaya should once and for all ensure that no middlemen will be involved in the current rehiring and deportation process.
On the other hand, he said the Indonesian Embassy should also play a more active role to go down to the ground and monitor all of their citizens arrested during the raids.

Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali has reportedly urged all undocumented migrants who failed to apply for the E-card to surrender themselves and escape from being fined and jailed.
Bernama quoted Mustafar as saying that those who surrendered would only be charged a penalty of RM400 - on top of purchasing their own plane ticket home - instead of paying up to RM5,000 if caught under the enforcement action.
It was also reported that over 2,000 foreign workers and 44 employers have been arrested nationwide as of July 6.
*Names changed to protect real identity -Mkini

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