Getting refugees to fill Malaysia's labour needs

Getting refugees to fill Malaysia's labour needs
Many refugees welcome the government's proposal to allow them to work legally while they await resettlement to a third country or voluntary repatriation. Seen here are Myanmar refugees Htet Thiri (left), 25, and Than Than, 42, who are eagerly awaiting that day.

MALAYSIA - The job could not be better - apart from the good wage, food, accommodation and transport are provided. With jobs hard to come by for refugees, Somali refugee Ahmed* and friends were grateful.

Come payday, however, their "dream job" became a nightmare. Instead of getting paid, Ahmed and friends were slapped with a bill for their food and accommodation.

"He told us we had to pay him because we owed him money for the food, accommodation and other expenses," says the 28-year-old who fled to Malaysia two years ago.

When they protested, they were threatened with beatings and even deportation to Somalia.

Forced to work illicitly, refugees in Malaysia are at risk of exploitation and victimisation by some unscrupulous employers.

Hence, many welcome the government's proposal to allow them to work legally while they await resettlement to a third country or voluntary repatriation.

Currently, some 104,070 refugees here are registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) while some 50,000 are waiting to be registered. To survive, they take up informal and odd jobs.

Formalising work for refugees will give them a legal recourse if they get caught in any exploitative situations with employers, says S. Sharif Mohamed, the leader of a Somali refugee community in Kuala Lumpur.

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