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TheAge: Malaysia deports Indonesian workers
By Mark Baker

28/1/2002 12:35 pm Mon

Malaysia deports Indonesian workers



Monday 28 January 2002

Malaysia has banned labour imports from Indonesia and begun expelling tens of thousands of migrant workers in a crackdown that is straining relations between the countries.

Indonesian Vice-President Hamzah Haz appealed against the decision at the weekend as Malaysian authorities prepared to deport 30,000 Indonesian labourers from the eastern state of Sabah and another 10,000 from neighbouring Sarawak on Borneo.

But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad rejected suggestions that he would meet President Megawati Sukarnoputri to discuss the issue. He said Malaysia had a surplus of foreign workers and would take no more from Indonesia.

"We have stopped this and there are no more jobs here for them," Dr Mahathir said.

The crackdown was triggered by a riot 10 days ago at a factory in the western state of Negri Sembilan during which 147 Indonesian workers were arrested after attacking police - who were ostensibly checking for drugs - and damaging buildings and vehicles.

Fifteen Indonesian workers alleged to have taken part in the riot will be charged in court tomorrow, newspapers reported yesterday.

Malaysian workers' rights group Tenaganita, which has investigated the incident, said the riot had been provoked by police, who lined up workers and began slapping them while conducting urine tests.

"The workers reacted and police began to use force and continued to beat up the workers," said Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez. "That was the last straw, the seam burst and the rioting began."

Dr Mahathir rejected the accusation - supported by the Indonesian labour rights group Kopbumi - that police had provoked the violence.

"Please prove their claims," he said. "If we compare our so-called police brutality and theirs, I think theirs fare much worse.

"Looking at and comparing pictures of police brutality there, they seem to show that it is more brutal over there."

Indonesian Manpower Minister Jacob Nuwa Wea last week admitted that Indonesia was embarrassed by the incident in Negri Sembilan - which followed a riot by 1600 Indonesians at a Johor detention camp in December - while announcing plans to send a legal team to defend those arrested.

Another 38 of those arrested in Negri Sembilan were deported to Indonesia on Saturday.

This takes to 129 the number expelled since the incident.

Dr Mahathir blamed "trouble makers" among the migrant workers for creating misunderstanding between Malaysia and Indonesia and insisted bilateral relations would not be damaged by the issue. "It is their own action that creates in the Malaysian Government and people an aversion towards Indonesian immigrants," he said.

"They are the ones souring the ties, not us. When a riot is carried out by one group, followed by another and another, I think we can no longer stay silent. On numerous occasions we have accorded them preferential treatment. Now we no longer want to keep them."

Most of the estimated one million Indonesians working in Malaysia are believed to be illegal migrants, many smuggled by syndicates supplying companies with cheap labour.

Ms Fernandez said a huge people-smuggling trade was being supported by corrupt Malaysian police and immigration officials.