Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
KATHMANDU, JUL 16 – The government is preparing to allow ‘controversial’ biometric medical check-up system that necessitates Nepali migrant workers to undergo biometric health screening from clinics identified by the Malaysian government for visa applications.
The biometric system, which was suspended by the Malaysian government for a few months following widespread protests, eventually came into effect on Wednesday.
Biometric screening–a fingerprint scanning system with security features to match an individual’s identity with the data recorded in the passport–will be implemented in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India in the first phase, according to the Foreign Workers Centralise Management System (FWCMS) in Malaysia.
Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) said final preparations are underway to grant permission to officially recognise the system as per the direction of the Parliamentary Committee on International Relations and Labour. The committee, which had been against the system, directed the ministry last week to allow the system with some conditions.
“We will soon inform the Malaysian government about the decision. Nepal does not have any problem if Malaysia assures our concerns relating to cost and security,” said a MoLE official. Earlier in January, Nepal had suspended the system citing concerns over cost, security and necessity of the proposed system even before it was suspended by Malaysia.
The Nepal Foreign Employment Medical Association (NeFEMA) and the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (Nafea)–two agencies protesting against the decision–claim the government had mutely extended its support to the system from the very beginning.
They said that the support was apparent when the government did not take action against 39 medical clinics when they were assigned to carry out the job. Protesters claimed the government endorsed the system bowing to the pressure from government officials and some big entrepreneurs who were driven by their personal interest.
“It will only ensure legal foundation to exploit the Nepali migrant workers,” said Nafea’s former Chairman Bal Bahadur Tamang, who sees it as a ploy to let “foreign agents” to handle Nepal’s internal recruitment.
Responding to Nepal’s six-point queries in January, Malaysia had clarified that the migrant workers will not have to incur any additional cost and that other medical centres meeting the set standards would be allowed to conduct the tests.
A majority of the 284 medical companies authorised to conduct health check-ups have stood against the new system, claiming that it will lead to a syndicate in the system. The companies said they cannot take the accreditation since the equipment is too expensive.
Though Malaysia remains the largest work destination for Nepali migrant workers, with a daily outflow of 500-600 workers, an increasing number of people including migrants are urging the government to ban the destination citing widespread abuse and discrimination.
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