Arrest of 171 Bangladeshis who were attempting to lodge police report is a wrongful exercise of police powers and in breach of Anti-trafficking laws
27 December 2023
We refer to the news reports on Monday stating that 171 Bangladeshis were arrested in Johor after they marched to the police station to try and lodge a report against their agents who failed to provide them jobs as contractually agreed.
It is appalling that despite acknowledgment by the police that the 171 migrants entered the country legally and were only trying to lodge a report to the police station against their agents, it was the migrants who were arrested en masse to be investigated allegedly for overstaying.
Whilst the government has stated that they will investigate the agents responsible for putting the 171 Bangladeshis in this predicament, this alone is not enough. It is obvious from the available facts that the migrants have been duped and are now stranded in our country without the jobs they were promised. If they overstayed, it is by design of unscrupulous agents for the purpose of exploitation.
This would mean that the migrants here are victims of trafficking as per section 2 of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007 (“ATIPSOM”).
As they are victims of trafficking, the migrants cannot be detained in immigration depots or charged for offences. In fact, they should have already been brought to the magistrate within 24 hours of their arrest to be given an interim protection order and be placed instead in a designated place of refuge in accordance with section 44 of ATIPSOM.
There have been no reports that this process has been undertaken by the authorities.
The failure to initiate the process of obtaining a protection order for the migrants obstructs them from being recognised as trafficked persons and to be afforded immunity from criminal prosecution for overstaying as dictated by section 25 of ATIPSOM.
It is incumbent for the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (“MAPO”) to immediately exercise its function to coordinate the implementation of ATIPSOM. The continued detention and investigation of the migrants for an offence under section 15(1)(c) of the Immigration Act makes a mockery of our criminal justice system, where exploitative agents remain free whilst victims are detained and treated like criminals without due process. MAPO must ensure that these migrants who are victims of trafficking are accorded the full protection provided by ATIPSOM.
We thus urge the government to ensure the immediate release of the 171 Bangladeshis from detention and suspend any investigation for overstaying under the Immigration Act, as well as ensuring the authorities exercise its functions to obtain a protection order for the migrants in accordance with ATIPSOM. We further urge MAPO to utilise its powers under section 51A of ATIPSOM to allow the migrants to seek employment once the interim protection order has been given. It would be a grave injustice for the migrants, who entered the country legally to seek legitimate employment to simply be deported back to their country of origin due to the actions of deceitful agents and the failure of the government to ensure they receive fairness and justice.
Lawyers for Liberty