KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — Indonesian migrant workers recently deported from Sabah were allegedly severely deprived of basic human rights while detained there, an advocacy group called Koalisi Buruh Migran Berdaulat (KBMB) revealed amid a spike in Covid-19 cases among detainees there.
In its report released yesterday, the Indonesian civil society said many of the Indonesian workers interviewed after their deportation from Sabah spoke not only of wrongful detention but also ill-treatment by Malaysian authorities.
In a webinar to launch its report yesterday, a member of its fact-finding team Abu Mufakhir claimed that none of the deportees were fairly processed prior to their deportation.
“The arrests were done based on wrong presumptions, while arrests linked to narcotic cases were not conducted in a competent manner and were filled with stigma,” he said.
“None of the workers who were arrested had a lawyer by their side and when they were taken to court, they were convinced that they only had one choice by the authorities — that is to plead guilty.
“They were given a script to memorise and read to the judge, thinking that by pleading guilty, their sentence will be reduced,” he related.
Based on KBMB’s findings, it is estimated that there were at least one million migrant workers working in oil palm plantations in Sabah — with around 90 per cent of them being Indonesian nationals who mainly hailed from Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara.
The presence of Indonesian migrant workers in Sabah can be traced back to the 1980s. Over time, their numbers continued to increase.
Inevitably, as the migrant population grew, many were employed without proper documentation. This reportedly included the massive recruitment of workers by large palm oil companies, including government agency Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), from the 1990s onwards.
KBMB also claimed that a quota system, where each company is only permitted to legally recruit one migrant worker for every eight hectares of plantation land, was among the contributing factors towards the increased employment of undocumented workers.
Documented or not, arrests still happen
However, whether a migrant worker had work documents or not, Abu Mufakhir said they were always in fear of being arrested by the police.
“Some were caught even though they have documents. Because these are important documents, the migrant workers choose to keep them at home rather than carry them around while they work and in many cases, these documents are withheld by the employer.
“Those who are detained, if their employers or family failed to produce the required documents after two days, the migrant worker will be processed and sent to court to be tried,” he said.
The trial process for each migrant takes only about five to 10 minutes, Abu Mufakhir claimed.
He said KBMB also discovered a pattern in sentencing the detainees.
A man aged 50 years and above would receive a sentence between one and three months in prison; while a woman who is with a child would be sentenced to one month in prison.
Men below age 50 detained for the first time would get three to six months in prison, but they can be granted a waiver of three months if they agreed to be caned three times.
Those with prior convictions would get a longer jail sentence of between nine and 12 months.
After serving their jail sentence, the migrants would then be sent to a temporary detention centre either in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Papar-Kimanis, or Tawau — previously run by the Immigration Department and now the National Security Council.
But the period of their detention while processing their deportation is unclear, Abu Mufakhir said.
“Some migrants were detained for more than six months, while others were detained for less than three months,” he said.
The conditions at these detention centres, he alleged, were worse than how one would treat animals.
In one of the accounts KBMB collected, one deported migrant claimed detainees would be rudely woken up at 6am by an officer yelling at them to line up and to squat with their hands behind their backs, with their heads bowed and to greet the officer with a “good morning, teacher” or risk being hit.
“From an interview with a deportee’s child, the 10-year-old child said he was slapped and his thighs stepped on by an officer at the detention centre over a minor altercation.
“This happens every day, and to everyone,” Abu Mufakhir said.
Children, women face horrors in detention
Child and work exploitation is another way detainees are ill-treated at such detention centres, Abu Mufakhir alleged.
“A deportee told us that in his block, there were 19 children and most of them were tasked to pick up rubbish and clean the detention centre,” he said.
“Those who work as rubbish collectors, cleaners and gardeners from morning to evening were paid 30 sen per day while those tasked to cook are paid RM1 per day,” he said.
According to KBMB, detainees reported that up to 200 people were housed in a block measuring 10 by 15 metres, with just three toilet outlets that are dirty and clogged. The detainees recounted having to suck the pipes to get water out of them.
According to the accounts, food served at the detention centres were always either stale, not thoroughly cooked, or just plain raw.
The migrants claimed the poor conditions of the detention centres caused many of them to fall sick; most said they became infected with skin diseases including scabies, or others such as tuberculosis, diarrhea and cholera.
Abu Mufakhir said from KBMB’s interview, some pregnant women recounted giving birth in the detention centres by themselves.
“This was due to a delay in sending them to the hospital,” he said.
According to KBMB’s report, three babies were delivered in the Sabah detention centres in the most recent round-up.
In the report, a woman deportee related that because of the Covid-19 outbreak, they were often sprayed with disinfectant at high pressure.
“We were not given a change of clothes and were told to dry it off while wearing them. The officers told us that this was to kill the germs,” the deportee said.
Satyawanti Mashudi, a commissioner with Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), confirmed that she had received numerous accounts of women deportees who were ill-treated while in these detention centres.
“Whether it is before or during Covid-19, women have suffered at the detention centres. A simple example but yet a violation of basic human rights is to deprive them of sanitary towels during their menstruation.
“Can you imagine the situation they have to go through with the poor condition of the detention centres and no water supply?” she asked.
Suhakam given run-around by Malaysian authorities
Jerald Joseph of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) who also spoke during the webinar said items confiscated from migrant workers when they were sent to the Sabah detention centres would disappear.
“Many of the migrant workers, when they are finally deported, found that the items which they had surrendered when they were processed had gone missing.
“We have also brought this to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. They said they are aware, but something needs to be done.
“According to the law, there is a document that needs to be signed by the migrant worker and they are to keep a copy of the document.
“Were they cheated? When we checked with the agencies, we got a blame game — a particular agency said it didn’t get it from another agency,” he said, noting that the migrant workers are frequently moved around.
KBMB interviewed 43 out of 1,082 Indonesian migrant workers deported from four temporary detention centres in Sabah between June and September this year.
The migrant workers were detained during the movement control order enforced starting March 18 to contain the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia.
Malay Mail is seeking comments from the Immigration Department, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, and Home Minister Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin.
This comes as Malaysia recorded a new spike of new Covid-19 cases especially in Sabah, with the infection spreading among undocumented migrants rounded up by authorities in detention centres.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin again laid the blame for the spike on undocumented migrants who entered the country “illegally” and prisoners, amid public outrage against politicians flouting standard operating procedures during the Sabah state election.
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