Press Statement

Migrant workers are in Malaysia to work, not commit crimes or misbehave

17 February 2016


Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the rising xenophobic and racist sentiments expressed against the government’s plan to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over the next three years.


While they are right to question the motive and necessity of bringing in such a large number of migrant workers when no study was done to justify the number of workers required and for the various sectors, it is unacceptable for them to make sweeping statements that these migrant workers would be causing all manner of social problems including having relations with local women, cause a rise in crime, diseases and even terrorism.


Migrant workers are not in Malaysia to commit crimes, bring diseases or harass local women. They are here to work, mainly in jobs shunned by locals. They generally come from impoverished backgrounds, having left everything behind and incurring huge debts in order to try to earn a living in Malaysia for their families and themselves. Many are lowly paid, work under difficult conditions, prone to exploitation, extortion, cheating and even trafficking.


Like everywhere else, there are individual cases of migrant workers misbehaving or committing crimes, and they are rightly handled individually by the relevant authorities. There is certainly no cause to tar the entire group of migrant workers or their nationalities due to such isolated cases. Needless to say, such crimes or misbehaviour are not uniquely perpetrated by migrants, and locals are equally, if not more culpable.


We reiterate our call for the Home Ministry to consult all stakeholders including the Human Resources Ministry, MTUC and the Malaysian Employers Federation before taking such a drastic step, especially since there is a ready-made labour force – some estimated 100,000 refugees and two million undocumented migrants who are already working in the country albeit without proper documentation.


The move to bring in 1.5 million migrant workers is certainly questionable as to the motives and who it actually benefits. It is a far more sensible and practical solution to regularise the refugees and migrants already present and working in the country, thus including and protecting them in the process. We must endeavour to reform our policies and attitudes towards migrant workers and strive to create better laws, protection mechanisms and improve working conditions.


Released by:


Eric Paulsen

Executive Director

Lawyers for Liberty


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