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Pakistanis Stuck in ASEAN Labor Trafficking Scams


Pakistan_MalaysiaIn current scenario, the cases of sex trafficking get a lot of global attention and media coverage, whereas labor trafficking gets sidelined. Needless to say, labor trafficking is a huge phenomenon faced by the world.  While labor trafficking is not exactly a secret, it is very difficult to identify the persons who become the victims of labor trafficking scams.

But if we look around, this is something we see “everywhere.”

Recently on a Dubai-Kuala Lumpur transit a group of closely attached young Pakistani men were seen at the airport lounge. The group constituted 12 men and it was apparent that it was their first ever time to sit on a plane. The most interesting thing to be noted was they were barely able to speak in Pakistan’s national language Urdu, and barely managed few liners in English. However they were all on their way to Malaysia holding valid work permits.

Local investigations  find that a quarter of all workers in Malaysia in forced labor include large number of young men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Most South Asian youth arrive to Malaysia via employment recruiting agencies. This trend has been criticized within Pakistan by several leading politicians who argue that Pakistani workers sign agreements with lucrative wages and wonderful terms in Pakistan, but when they actually land inside Malaysia, the outsourcing companies substitute those contracts for more exploitative ones.

Speaking with a Pakistani labor who has recently returned back into the country was an eye opener. For maintaining privacy, we will call this twenty-six year old man Zahir Murad originally from Faislabad district. Zahir spent five years in Johor, Malaysia where he worked as a window cleaner on the tourist Hotels.

In his own words, “I spend my days hundreds of feet high to work overtime all the time, day in day out, sickness or not. I don’t think I will ever think of going abroad again.” Zahir Murad was offered a lucrative contractual job by a recruiting agency of a construction company but upon arrival to Malaysia, he turned into cleaner overnight and spent almost all those years cleaning only despite his educational credentials. More ever, he lived in a small room with other four men.

Zahir watches me but his expression tells me he is reliving those times, and suddenly he blurts out, “I feel like such a failure, what I got after spending five years aboard to show it at home. On top of that, the recruiting agencies told such wonderful stories of Malaysia, a great destination for Muslim migrants.” 

The humiliation Zahir suffered won’t fade away so easily and like many others, this trauma has scarred him for life. After speaking with him, my mind immediately thought of those eager looking faces at the Dubai airport terminal. But I will probably never know what happened to them, one can just hope that their fate wasn’t like that of Zahir’s.

For past two years, another Pakistani Junaid Mohammad is working as a security guard in Kuala Lumpur with a Malaysian security company. He is one of the hundreds of young Pakistanis and Afghans who came to Malaysia seeking better career prospects and larger earnings. His recruiters provided documents that on paper seemed like a Golden Dream come true and even instigated that the company car would pick him at the airport. But upon arrival, Junaid spent four days at the departure terminal to understand that nobody was coming. Finally, the recruiting agency man came making excuses of a family emergency. He took Junaid to the new work premises, but went away with his passport citing official documentation motives.

Junaid’s contract stated his monthly salary at 3000 Malaysian Ringgits (approximately US$900).In reality, he’s actually only managed to less than half of the promised amount and cannot move freely to seek help due to his vulnerable status of being a foreigner without his passport. During this time, he fell sick and needed medical attention. As he braved the roads, he was arrested and labelled as an illegal immigrant. The local police let him go; it seems bribes work well in Malaysia just like Pakistan.

Junaid complains of being abused both by his recruiters and the authorities in Malaysia who don’t want to deal with the problems of migrants workers. But he knows, any open retaliation means he will be fired and without his passport he is stranded into nowhere.

Some of his colleagues were able to contact the embassy but that too didn’t help change their situation. Junaid says, “The embassy staff in Kuala Lumpur don’t help us at all, they are immoral and unkind. They are enjoying good salaries but when it comes for serving Pakistanis, they really do nothing.”

Junaid and his colleagues demand that Governments of Pakistan and Malaysia respectively look into the matter, because migrant labor rights are getting abused as we so speak. Such cases are a tip on the iceberg of the complexity that faces Asian migrant laborer rights and need immediate attention. The regional network CARAM Asia works on migration and health issues says that Pakistanis makes up the majority of  more than half of foreigner workers in Malaysia. The organization also says that over two-thirds of migrant workers don’t get their wages on time and many get physically and sexually harassed.

Its time to stand up against Labor trafficking which is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

First published on Sept.16 2015 

South East Asia News

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