Illegal immigrants in Malaysia

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Illegal immigrants in Malaysia comprise a substantial portion of the Malaysian population with most of them coming from the nearby Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and other Asian countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and China. The Malaysian Department of Immigration has guarantees that Malaysia will be free from illegal immigrants in 2020. Thus, to achieve the vision various operation has been conducted.[1]


In Malaysia, the term "illegal immigrant" usually refers to an alien who enters the country without any proper documents or those who enters legally but overstays, thus abusing their passport or visa. This also include to those who are using false identities to live on the country.[2]


Malaysia with most of its Southeast Asian neighbours are not the signatories of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, thus have maintained that any newly arrival aliens are illegal immigrants rather than refugees.[3] Since early 1970s, Malaysia has allowing other Muslims who stuck in a conflict on their countries to seek refugee in Malaysia especially to the Filipino Muslims in the Southern Philippines.[4]

Also in 1975, Malaysia accepted thousands of Cambodian Muslims who had fled Cambodia during the administration of Pol Pot regime. During the Indochina refugee crisis, Malaysia continued to allow a select number of Cambodian Muslims to locally integrate, assisted by the Malaysian Muslim Welfare Organisation (PEKIM), who received funds both from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Malaysian Government.[4] Starts from 1980, Malaysia permitted the local settlement for Rohingya Muslims and Acehnese Muslims who both fleeing the Muslims persecution in Myanmar and Aceh insurgency in Indonesia.[4]

In 2015, the Malaysian Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar stated that his ministry has spoken on the refugee issue numerous times with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), telling the world organisation that "Malaysia is not a signatory to its convention on refugees". He told that even Malaysia allow any refugees to stay here, the UNHCR should not taking any advantage of Malaysia's compassion to allowing them here, instead it is time for the United Nations to sent the refugees to another third-world nation. The minister also reminded that even if Malaysia is seen as an attractive country for the refugees to taking up the jobs that locals did not want to take it due to dangerous, dirty or demeaning nature, both the refugees and the migrant workers should not just take the law into their own hands when in Malaysia.[5]


Political agenda behind massive influx of illegals[edit]

The power to provide a shelters for refugees has been misused by several individuals mostly from the National Registration Department (NRD), when the most serious cases had happened on the east Malaysian state of Sabah to allow thousands of Filipino Muslims acquire the Malaysian identity card through a secret project known as Project IC.[6] It is evidenced that this was done due to a network connection by their own people who are already in Malaysia to bring the other relatives from their own countries. For example, the Pakistani syndicate has a largely Pakistani clients while others syndicate such as from Myanmar and Indonesia also have their own clients. This is similar to the Filipino cases as when their document producing network expand, they also started to bring more illegal immigrants from their own ethnic community to live here and become Malaysian citizen.[7][8] Further investigation revealed that the corruption of local authorities and illegal issuance of identity cards had played an important role on the high increase of this illegal immigrants especially in Sabah.[9] Former Prime Minister such as Mahathir had continuously support the influx of these illegals, saying they should be given citizenship.[10] As stated by some source, the Malaysian Government has their own political purpose[11][12] and want to stop the territorial dispute over Sabah with the Philippines by providing such shelters to these Filipino Muslims without knowing these immigrants will betraying Malaysia in the future as evidenced on the 2013 intrusion and the recent kidnappings.[4][10][13][14] The security command in Sabah ever mentioning;

Although these foreigners stayed in Sabah, their loyalty to the Philippines never swayed and brought along crimes like drugs, smuggling and piracy. The Filipinos from this region are vengeful and ill-tempered, where disputes often result in shooting and end in bloody feuds. "A culture they call Rido".[9]

Furthermore, during the uncontrolled influx of Vietnamese boat people to Malaysia, the Malaysian Government felt this would threaten its national security and its racial balance as most of these Vietnamese refugees resemble the Chinese people.[15] For the Malaysian Government, the United States are the one who should be blamed on the Vietnamese refugee problems, accusing them of being principally at fault for causing the Vietnam War and led to a large massive influx of these illegals to Vietnam neighbours.[15] This phobia resulted from two tragedies that had happened to Malaysia in the past, the 1964 which led to the separation of Singapore and 1969, both between the Malay and Chinese. While thousands of Muslim illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries such as the one from the Southern Philippines and Sulawesi, Indonesia continued to be given permission to lived in this country without any restrictions and prediction on what problems they may posed in the near future. Some Sabahan Muslims MP and State Assembly such as Rosnah Shirlin and Abdul Rahim Ismail had even felt the problems brought by the Filipinos Muslims today, Rosnah quote;

The refugee camp established on my district has creating a lot of problems for the residents here. The camp has become a drugs den and the source of many other criminal activities. Over the years, many robberies had taken place in nearby villages and the culprits are mostly from the camp. Supposedly, the improved situation in the Philippines today has brought into question whether these Filipinos could still be regarded as refugees. The camp was set up on a 40-acre plot of land near Kampung Laut in the early 1980s by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). But the UNHCR had long ago stopped providing funds to the camp and as a result, many of these foreigners had been working outside the camp. The refugees had even dare to expanded the camp area, encroaching on nearby village land and today, the camp has become the biggest syabu distribution den on my district.[16][17]

— Rosnah Shirlin, Sabah Papar's MP.

Rahim support this by saying;

For decades, my village and several villages in my constituency — was a beautifully rustic villages of traditional fishermen, who went about their daily lives with no cause for worry except for the latest catch of the day. Sabah’s long-standing issues with illegal immigration are starting to irk local communities, who live fearing for their safety and culture. The ambience of the village has changed. The most obvious change now is the security fears in the village where I was born and grew up in. There is a colony of some 50 or so illegal immigrants who are living on a private piece of land that was supposedly rented out to them. The illegal immigrants roam around the village, and the town area, the pump boats they use are becoming a common sight here. I’ve brought it up to the authorities before; the police, immigration and district office. I appreciate some steps being taken, but it is not enough to give confidence to the local residents. If left unattended, Sabah will be susceptible to a lot of social ills — illegal drug dealing and consumption, theft and robbery and a “pump boat culture”. The authorities also need to ensure that Sabahan land owners do not rent out their land randomly to anybody and contravening the Sabah Land Ordinance.[18][19]

— Abdul Rahim Ismail, Sabah State Legislative Assembly Members for Pantai Manis in Papar.

During a recent Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah, a number of revelations on the granting of citizenship to illegal immigrants was revealed. A former National Registration Director, Mohd Nasir Sugip revealed that he was part of a top secret operation called 'Ops Durian Buruk' (Operation Rotten Durian),[20] whereby the Election Commission of Malaysia and then deputy former Home Minister Megat Junid Megat Ayub instructed his department to issue national identity cards to foreigners to change the voting demographics in Sabah.[21] During this process of granting national identity cards, the names of 16,000 illegal immigrants were changed under instructions of the Sabah Election Commission.[22] Also former Sabah NRD director Ramli Kamarudin revealed that former Sabah Chief Minister Osu Sukam was present when Megat Junid gave instructions to carry out the project IC exercise.[23]

Several witnesses who benefited from the citizenship for votes scheme have corroborated this assertion, including a Filipino man who said that he was given his identity card without applying for it.[24] Further two witnesses from India and Pakistan said they received identity cards in less than 10 years, instead of going through the normal process of getting permanent residency in 12 years and undergoing naturalisation after being in Malaysia for 10 years more.[25]

Upon to know this, the secret project had angered many Sabahan natives including neighbouring Sarawak who are the close brother to Sabah. This was mainly due to many original natives who are mostly Christians are still stateless while the newly arrival illegal immigrants can hold Malaysian identity cards in just a short period through the secret project just because they are Muslims.[26]

Corruption, porous border and weak security[edit]

Beside political agenda, there is also a report that some of these illegal immigrants attempts to apply to become Malaysian security force members by using their fake identity cards.[17] This has been proved during the searching operation of further members of the Sulu terrorists in Sabah when one of the detained are Malaysian police corporal who have a family ties in the southern Philippines. He was believed to have aided terrorists to illegally entering Sabah and leaving the state.[27] There is another serious case when a security guard from Tawau, Sabah shot dead a bank worker in Subang Jaya, Selangor and robbed a bank there. Initial investigation found the security guard only possess a fake identity card and not a Sabahan citizen.[28] The suspect identified as an Indonesian coming from Sulawesi.[29] Some politician such as Kit Siang even questioned how the security guard can get a MyKad to enabled him work in the bank. He quote;

How can this person get a MyKad, and even if the MyKad is fake, how can he be allowed to open up a bank account, receive monthly salary and in fact be given a firearm licence by the Home Ministry? Did this person also vote in the 13th General Election? Is it because the owner of the security firm is a crony of the ruling party? How many foreigners have enjoyed these privileges?[30]

— Lim Kit Siang, member of the opposition (DAP).

Apart from Sabah, the porous border in the Straits of Malacca between Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra also became the hole for Indonesian illegal immigrants to enter and escaped the country. This was noticed in 2014 when these illegals frequently sank on the sea due to their overloaded boat to avoid detection from the Malaysian authorities.[31]

Human trafficking issues[edit]

In 2014, Malaysia together with Thailand and Venezuela was listed at the third and lowest tier by US Department of State. This was due to Malaysia only doing a little progress to combat the exploitation of foreign migrant workers who are routinely subjected to forced labour conditions and those who had been recruited under false pretenses and later coerced into sex work.[32] Many Rohingya refugees who want to seek a better life in Malaysia have frequently fall in the hand of human traffickers, such as what already happened on northern Malaysia when the traffickers kept them in a houses, beating them, depriving them of food, and demanding a ransom from their families.[33] Beside that, a large numbers of Vietnamese and Chinese traffickers have shifted their prostitution business to Malaysia which making Vietnamese women at the top list of foreign prostitutes in the country.[34] The traffickers tactic usually cheat the victim by offering them jobs in Malaysia with high salary, but once they arrived to meet the trafficker (who have disguised themselves as the manager), the victim will be brought and locked in a house, raped and forced into sex work.[35][36]

UNHCR attempts to integrate refugees with the locals[edit]

In 1986, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was found trying to integrate Filipino refugees in Sabah with the local communities if they can't repatriate them back to the Philippines but this was opposed heavily by the locals and Sabah State Government as it could brought a big social problem to the state.[37][38] The UNHCR was found again using the similar methods in 2015 when they issuing refugees cards to refugees in West Malaysia without the consent of the Malaysian government.[39]


Amnesty program[edit]

In 2011, Malaysia launch an amnesty programme with codenamed '6P' to reduce the number of illegal immigrants. The 'P' stands for six Malay words beginning with the letter which mean; "Pendaftaran" (registration), "Pemutihan" (legalisation), "Pengampunan" (amnesty), "Pemantauan" (supervision), "Penguatkuasaan" (enforcement) and "Pengusiran" (deportation).[40] All illegal immigrants were given three weeks to take up the offer or face the law if they are arrested without any valid travel documents or work permits.[41] However, some irresponsible people have taken advantage of the loopholes of its implementation, thus, there is a call to strengthen the programme by monitoring management companies who have been appointed as intermediaries between employers and illegal foreign workers.[42]


The crackdown on illegal immigrants have been carried out frequently by the Malaysian authorities, sometimes without any notice. Since 2014, crackdowns have been more frequent as many illegal immigrants have been found to be using permits of the locals to operate businesses.[43]

Detention and deportation[edit]

Through detention, the illegal immigrants will be imprisoned, caned and finally deported. This was done to help regulate immigration and to remind them to return to their home countries by letting them know to "not flout the law again".[44]

Foreign suggestion and aid to combat illegal migration[edit]

A joint border commission has been signed with the Philippines to patrol the illegal immigrants from the Southern Philippines to East Malaysia,[45] while Thailand has agreed to lengthen a border wall along the Malaysian state of Kedah to curb the flows of illegal workers across the Malay–Thai border.[46] Spanish Ambassador to Malaysia María Bassols Delgado has urged the country to have closer ties with other Asean nations to solve the immigrant problem. According to her "close understanding between Asean countries would result in a more effective approach to identify the individuals who entered the country illegally and without identification papers. This would facilitate the process of sending them back to their countries of origin".[47] In 2015, Malaysia receives two patrol vessels from Australia. Malaysia said the assets would used to protect their maritime borders from illegal migration in the Straits of Malacca.[48]


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Further reading[edit]