Friday October 29, 2004

Indonesian illegal immigrants leave Malaysia
under Ramadan amnesty

Illegal Indonesian workers line up at the immigration counters at the Port Klang ferry terminal as they prepare to leave for home by ferry Friday, Oct. 29, 2004. Thousands of illegal Indonesian workers headed home by ferry on Friday under an amnesty for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan that allows them to depart Malaysia without penalty. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Thousands of illegal Indonesian workers headed home by ferry on Friday under an amnesty for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan that allows them to depart Malaysia without penalty.
Some 160,000 migrants were expected to leave in the coming two weeks.
"I was afraid of being caught and that is why I want to go back now," said Eni, who had worked on an oil plantation in the eastern state of Pahang for the last five months.
"But I will come back with a working permit of course," she said before boarding the ferry with her two daughters aged 7 and 4 1/2. Like many Indonesians she uses only one name.
Eni was one of about 500 Indonesians, many carrying portable stereo sets, electric rice cookers and small TVs, who lined up at the immigration counters at the Port Klang ferry terminal when it opened. The crowd swelled as the day wore on, and similar numbers were reported from the 23 other ferry, land and air exit points.
Officials took the departing workers' thumb prints and recorded particulars from the temporary travel documents issued by the Indonesian Embassy earlier this month after the Malaysian government announced the amnesty.
At least 60,000 illegal workers are expected to leave from Port Klang and 100,000 others from the ports of Johor and Malacca during the two week amnesty, officials said on condition of anonymity. The amnesty period coincides with the last two weeks of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends on or around Nov. 14, depending on the sighting of the moon.
Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia's richest countries, has up to 1.2 million illegal immigrants, mostly Indonesians, who form the backbone of the country's construction industry but who are also blamed for crime and other social problems.
Many employers hire illegal workers to avoid paying higher salaries and benefits. The amnesty covers illegal workers from all countries, such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Philippines and India. The government has warned that those caught after the amnesty will face fines, prison terms and caning, standard punishments for illegal workers.
"I will not come back. The working conditions (in Malaysia) are terrible and I am afraid of being whipped if I am caught," said Afsoni, a 21-year-old native of Jambi on Sumatra island.
Afsoni, who used to work in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, said his employer allowed him only four hours of sleep and made him work for 20 hours for a salary of 30 ringgit (US$8; euro 6.5) a day. In Indonesia he earned only about 5 ringgit (US$1.5; euro 1) a day.
The government has said the workers are free to enter Malaysia legally in the future.
Malaysia offered a similar amnesty in 2002, when more than 300,000 illegal foreign workers _ mostly Indonesians and Filipinos _ left voluntarily or were expelled.


Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"