Wednesday, January 31, 2007

End the Rela bounty scheme (The Malaysiakini published version)

End the Rela bounty scheme
Charles Hector
Jan 31, 07 3:00pm

Migrants are human beings and should not be treated like stray dogs. The policy and practice of paying members of the People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) RM80 for each undocumented migrant they arrest must be stopped.

Rela is also asking for the training allowance of RM24.20 for lower ranking members and RM34.20 for officers to be extended for those involved in operations (The Star, Dec 27, 2006).

Members of the corps had reportedly arrested 17,700 people believed to be illegal immigrants and screened 94,010 people up to last September.

Of the 17,700, Indonesians made up 12,076, Myanmar (2,089), Indians (963), Bangladeshis (923), Thais (402), Chinese (43) and others (1,200).

What must be noted is that 76,310 others were unnecessarily subjected to the uncomfortable experience of being screened.

If, by screening, it means squatting in sun and waiting - as happened to some 1,500 at the Sepang District Council compound to have their particulars checked during a Ops Tegas raid - then this was a blatant violation of their rights.

Recent reports reveal that many migrants are needlessly arrested and forced to spend time in detention centres.

It is also worth noting that the 17,700 arrested are only believed to be illegal immigrants - many could really be documented workers, unnecessarily arrested because their documents were in the hands of employers at the time.

What about employers?

Interestingly, only four employers were arrested in the same period. Surely all the 17,700 persons believed to be illegal immigrants were not just in the employ or in the premises of four employers.

This is shocking. I hope that it is not just small-time employers with little or no political connections, but also big ones.

I believe that those who employ undocumented migrants are the ones responsible for the increasing numbers of the latter.

The others responsible are unscrupulous and/or false agents, and those who facilitate the smuggling of persons into the country. Sadly, it seems that Rela and the other authorities have not acted against them.

Last year, we also heard how some errant employers of undocumented migrants had even gotten away with not paying wages by reason of their being undocumented. Action against errant employers must be increased - and if the employer is a company, then action must be taken against all directors and also majority shareholders.

Alleged employers of undocumented migrants must be immediately investigated, arrested and charged in the same way that those believed to be illegal migrants are being treated. Why the special treatment for employers?

Overcrowded detention centres

Malaysia has been arresting allegedly undocumented migrants with great enthusiasm, leading to overcrowded detention centres.

On Sept 30 last year, Home Minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad was quoted as saying: “There are about 7,467 illegal immigrants detained in 15 centres around the country and based on the progression of arrests made by Rela, we are expected to face a crisis for space by January.

“One of the biggest centres like the Semenyih Immigration Detention Depot can only take in a maximum of 1,500 detainees while smaller ones can only accommodate up to a maximum of 500 people.”

It is January now, and one wonders whether the detention centres are as overcrowded as anticipated.

This is yet another reason why Malaysia needs to seriously review its strategy and policies concerning undocumented migrants. Clearly, mass arrests and deportations have not been working.

Apart from targeting employers who are providing employment and persons smuggling in persons, we should move towards a ‘come, find a job’ and self-registration strategy. We cannot deny that Malaysia needs the services of migrant workers.

Posse without a sheriff

But what is most crucial at this stage is to immediately put an end to Malaysia’s use of volunteer vigilantes in the crackdown on undocumented migrants. There are just too many incidents involving Rela members that have brought shame to the nation and its people.

What is disturbing is that the arms-bearing Rela members can go out, stop and search persons, enter premises and arrest persons without the presence of police or immigration enforcement officers. This is just not right and may lead to abuse of powers.

There must be at least a professional enforcer of the law to accompany the volunteer vigilantes as they go out on duty.

The government’s justification in using Rela is that there are not enough immigration and police personnel to deal with hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants. But surely it is unsafe to send out volunteers without leadership and guidance.

We are a civilised nation with an elected government and trained professional law enforcers. If the human resources are inadequate, then the proper thing to do is to appoint more police and immigration enforcement officers, not arm civilians to enforce the law.

If cash incentives are given to the police and immigration enforcement officers, as is apparently done for Rela members, I am sure that they too will be more efficient in performing their duties.

Give Rela a rest

In light of allegations, it is time to review the use of Rela and its powers, which exceed those of even the police.

There have been too many complaints of abuse including assaults, deaths, property damage, trespass, invasion of privacy and theft by migrants as well as citizens. Enough is enough.

Rela members must be rounded up and rested, and the police force and other enforcement agencies must take back the role of policing Malaysia.

The Essential (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) Regulations 1966 must be repealed. If need be, a new law must be enacted for Rela - one that will redefine its role and duties on possibly providing protection for Malaysians and curbing the incidence of crimes like snatch thefts.

Rela could also focus on curbing corruption involving the police and other enforcement officers, councillors and elected representatives.

There is no situation in Malaysia that can currently justify it operating under a state of Emergency. It is time for the government and the King to revoke all proclamations of Emergency and repeal all legislation enacted during such periods.

It could start with the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act 1979.

CHARLES HECTOR is a human rights activist and a lawyer.

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