Tuesday, January 23, 2007




Migrants are human beings and should not be treated as stray dogs, and the policy and practice of paying members of the People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) RM80-00 for each undocumented migrant must be stopped). Now RELA is also asking for allowance of RM24.20 for lower ranking members and RM34.20 for officers given to those participating in trainings and courses could be extended for operations (Star, RELA seeks allowance for staff during ops).

Syed Shahir, President MTUC during his opening speech at the MTUC/ILO Follow up Workshop on Migrant Workers in Malaysia held on 4-6 December 2006 said that this practice of using these “uniformed part-timers who have some policing powers, who were offered and did receive cash rewards for each migrant arrested as an economic incentive and this was most disturbing and embarrassing.” He also went on to say that it was sad that Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad was reported to have said RELA members would be again roped in for the planned crackdown on undocumented workers in 2007(Star, 14/10/2006).

MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong claimed that the reward offered had made RELA volunteers desperate to nab as many illegals as possible. He said this when handing over RM,2,400-00, being donations, collected by residents of Old Klang Road’s 4th mile area, to the widows, both of whom had two young children. Their husbands, Ahmad Apik, 35, and Edy Sathurrohman, 26, both Indonesians, drowned allegedly after jumping into the Klang river while trying to evade the RELA personnel. Let’s not forget the words of Michael Chong :” “These people may be illegals [undocumented], but they are still human beings,” ). A wife loses her husband and 2 children lost their fathers, and RM1,200-00 in donations is a far cry from justice.

Its was reported that RELA arrested a total of 17,700 people believed to be illegal immigrants and screened 94,010 people up to September 2006. Out of that 17,700, Indonesians comprised the highest number of those arrested at 12,076, followed by those from Myanmar (2,089), Indians (963), Bangladeshis (923), Thais (402), Chinese (43) and others (1,200). (Star, RELA arrests 17,700 suspected illegals)

What must be noted is that 94,010 people (or 76,310) persons were unnecessarily subjected to the uncomfortable experience of being screened. An by screening, if this meant squatting in sun waiting as what happened to some 1,500 who had to squat waiting at the Sepang District Council compound to have their particulars checked during one of the Ops Tegas (see picture in Star,

he number of illegal immigrants in detention centres nationwide is expected to reach critical stage by January next year. Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said: “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 centers like the Semenyih Immigration Detention centre can only take in a maximum of 1,500 detainees while smaller ones can only accommodate up to a maximum of 500 people. (Star, Number of illegals set to reach critical stage).It is January 2007 now, and one wonders whether Detention Centres are overcrowded now.

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 – and maybe we need to look at targeting employers that are providing employment, persons who are smuggling persons into the country and also maybe we should move towards a “come, find a job and self-registration” strategy. We cannot deny that Malaysia needs migrants.

But more importantly, what is most crucial at this stage is to immediately put an end to Malaysia’s usage volunteer ‘vigilantes’ in the crackdown on undocumented migrants for there are just too many incidences involving the RELA that is bringing shame to the nation and its people.


The powers of 70,000[i] strong RELA was expanded in early 2005 when the Essential (Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, which came into operation on 1 February 2005. What was being amended was a Essential (Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) Regulations 1966 [P.U. 33/1966], which is a Regulations that came into being by virtue of powers provided for in Emergency (Essential Powers) Act, 1964 (30/64) (now the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act 1979).

Section 6 of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act 1979, stated :- “For so long as the Proclamation of Emergency referred to in the preamble to this Act remains in force, the regulations made under the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act, 1964 (30/64) (except those regulations which the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may by notification in the Gazette declare not to be in force) shall be in force and shall have effect as if they have been made under this Act; and the regulations may be amended, modified or repealed as if they have been made under this Act.”.

Now, given the fact the Essential (Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) Regulations 1966 has now been amended Essential (Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, it settles once again that the Proclamation of Emergency issued by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on 15 May 1969 is still in force. Malaysia is still under a state of Emergency, and this is ludicrous.

The 2005 amendment to the 1966 Regulations now expressly allows a RELA member “where it has reasonable belief that any person is a terrorist, undesirable person, illegal immigrant or an occupier, to stop the person in order to make all such inquiries or to require the production of all such documents or other things as the competent authority may consider necessary”. It also permits the RELA to arrest without a warrant, may without a warrant and with or without assistance [of the police or immigration officers] enter and search any premises and also stop and search any vessel, vehicle or person, whether in a public place or not. The powers stated in this paragraph is exercisable if there is written authorization from a competent authority, who is defined as being the Director General(Ketua Pengarah), Deputy Director General(Timbalan Ketua Pengarah) and such other officers of the Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat as appointed by the Home Affairs Minister.

What is even interesting is that the 2005 amendments also provides for protection to these RELA volunteers whereby regulation 16 of the 2005 Amending Regulations clearly states : “The Public Authorities Protection Act 1948 shall apply to any action, suit, prosecution or proceedings against the Ketua Pengarah Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat, Timbalan Ketua Pengarah Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat or any member of the Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat in respect of any act, neglect or default done or committed by him in good faith or any omission omitted by him in good faith, in such capacity.".


What is disturbing is that the arms-bearing RELA members can go out stop, search, enter premises and arrest persons on their own without even the police or an immigration enforcement officer, and this is just not right and may lead to abuse of powers. There must be at least a professional enforcer of the law, be it a police or immigration personnel that accompanies these volunteers ‘vigilantes’. ’as they go out there performing their ‘duties’ The government’s possible justification in using RELA is that they do not have enough immigration and police personnel to deal with hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants in Malaysia – but surely it is very unsafe to send normal volunteers without any leadership and on-site guidance of at least one police or immigration personnel.

We are a civilized nation, and we have an appointed government who have appointed and trained professional law enforcers – and if there is inadequate law enforcers, then the proper thing to do is to appoint more police and immigration enforcement officers – not just go out and try to get volunteers with arms to enforce the law.

If cash incentives were also given to the police and immigration enforcement officers, like what is apparently done for the RELA members, I am sure that they too will be more efficient in the performance of their duties.


It may be true that the RELA has been effective in arresting about 19,000 foreigners since February 2005 until October 2006, but at the same time it has visited injustices to so many more persons – Malaysians, documented migrants and others. A sampling of RELA behaviour can be seen from facts that have been taken from media reports, as follows:

* A landscape company spent six harrowing days trying to get its legal foreign workers out of a detention camp. The six foreign workers, all with legal travel and work documents, were whisked out of their quarters in a resort in Cherating in the wee hours of the morning on Dec 28 last year when RELA members “literally broke into their chalet and ordered them out.” (Star,

* Five factories near here [Klang] alleged that at 1.30am on Saturday, a team of 30 to 40 RELA members (half not in uniforms) turned up to look for foreign workers, assaulted some and allegedly stole cash and valuables during the raid. The companies, who lodged police reports, said that all the workers had legal work permits. The workers of Latitude Tree Furniture Sdn Bhd claimed that RELA members had beaten them with canes and iron rods, leaving welts on their bodies. Two Bangladeshi workers sustained head injuries and were given outpatient treatment. The companies were not happy with the method used to search the premises and also said that “Detaining the workers is not a proper thing to do as it only disrupts operations of all our factories,”. They also said “…that such raids put fear in our workers and furthermore our workers claimed to have lost hand phones and cash after the raids.” (Star, Firms hit out at RELA raids)

* Residents of about 10 households in Taman Anggerik, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, complained that RELA personnel crashed into their homes after breaking door locks and smashing gates, and told them that they [RELA] were looking for illegal workers. The residents said the RELA personnel acted like gangsters and showed them no respect. When they asked the RELA personnel to explain why they crashed into their homes, they were told “we are the law.” Cash totaling RM3,756 in a drawer was subsequently found missing. (Star, RELA men break locks to enter houses)

* 22 workers of an IT company were beaten and made to do a 50m “duck-walk” at Section 30 in Shah Alam, RELA director-general Datuk Mahadi Arshad subsequently claimed that it was not a RELA operation, while stating that only 3 out of the 10 involved were RELA members. (Star, ‘Duck-walk’ incident not a RELA operation)


In light of what we know has been happening when the volunteer RELA force, with powers exceeding normal powers that our police even have, have been let loosed in the general community, it is time now to review the usage of RELA and also the powers that have been bestowed on them. There have been too many abuses and complaints which have got into the media which includes assault (and also deaths), property damage, trespass, invasion of privacy and even theft – and it has involved not just the undocumented migrants, but also documented migrants and even Malaysian citizens. Enough is enough.

The RELA must be rounded-up and rested, and the professional police force and other professional enforcement forces must take over the role of policing Malaysia.

In fact, that Essential (Ikatan RELAwan Rakyat) Regulations 1966 [P.U. 33/1966] must be repealed. If need be, a new law must be enacted for RELA – one that will re-define their role and duties focusing more possibly towards providing protection to Malaysians and trying to overcome the increasing incidences of snatch thiefs crimes and corruption in the country. RELA should maybe focus their attention to fighting corruption involving the police, other public officers, town councilors and elected representatives.

There is no situation now in Malaysia that can justify us still being under Emergency. It is time for the present government and the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to revoke all existing proclamations of Emergency, and at the same time cause the repeal of all remaining legislations that have been enacted during periods of Emergency – whereby one such Act that has to be repealed is the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act 1979.

Charles Hector

22 January 2007, Petaling Jaya

[i] Star, 445 illegals nabbed by Rela”

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