The Sun Commentary on Raid

Posted on 13 November 2000


Immigration Department's actions do not augur well for maids

Comment by Anne Francis

Published in The Sun, Nov 13, 2000

THE recent raid by the Immigration Department on the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), which led to the detention of three Indonesian maids has resulted in the surfacing of some rather debatable issues.

Firstly, it is a question of which comes first - are these maids supposed to be regarded as illegal immigrants or victims of abuse?

This would depend on the job descriptions of the various agencies involved in the matter.

While WAO would consider the women as victims (of abuse by their employers) before anything else, the Immigration department's job scope would only allow them to be labelled as illegals.

What happens when they are both? Would the department be willing to undertake the responsibility for protecting the victims from harm or is it just limited to stacking up statistics on the number of deportations achieved annually?

While the department says that it has a right to haul up illegal workers and even fine organisations who offer shelter to these immigrants, they failed to mention anything on the rights of exploited illegals.

Nevertheless, WAO claims that the three Indonesians were indeed legal and their passports were being held by their agent and ex-employers.

The Immigration Department, while it knows of WAO's duties and functions, also affirmed its ignorance on the details of the matter.

The department's public relations officer, Rusli Abdul Malek was reported as saying: "We understand that WAO has a responsibility to provide shelter for victims of abuse and rape, but in this case it had not informed us about the situation."

This would certainly reflect on the credibility of the Immigration Department, not to mention its boundaries in accessing vital information.

It would be safe to assume that this fumble could in some way have contributed to the department's sudden change of heart.

A day after the Nov 1 raid, it allowed the maids to stay put for another month, although no other specific reason was given.

According to WAO executive director Ivy Josiah it was puzzling that the department was unaware these maids were placed at the organisation upon the request of the police, pending investigations into their case.

However, it would be impossible to speculate if this conscience attack on the authorities is something genuine or one of the many guises used in the process of "saving face".

Next on the list of bafflements would certainly be the manner in which the raid was conducted whereby the scene could be likened to a hostage situation.

According to Josiah, 11 immigration officers had forced their way into the WAO premises and acted in a most intimidating way, constantly shouting and even making threats of handcuffing staff who refused to cooperate.

While this would be most permissible in a situation involving criminals, it is pointless to use such force at a place which shelters women.

Knowing that the women residing in the centre are mostly vulnerable people, unable to defend themselves, the behaviour of the authorities is to be regarded as totally unprofessional, if not, brutal!

Moreover, there is also the question of whether this is a normal procedure undertaken by the department in handling cases such as this.

Is it normal procedure for the immigration officers to barge into private premises without any legal documents?

In addition to this, the irresponsible act was also to be considered as an invasion of privacy considering the fact that WAO has been gazetted by the Social Welfare Department as a "Safe House", the only organisation to have attained such sanction in Malaysia.

It is also unfathomable as to why the enforcement officers disregarded the relevant documents which were actually sanctioned by the police.

While to a certain extent, a reasonable explanation would be that the Immigration Department has decided to truly display its seriousness in adhering to the Bersih, Cekap dan Amanah motto, therein also lies the possibility of an abuse of power.

Would it be sufficient to say that the authorities had only done what they were supposed to do or could this be regarded as the beginning of an assertion of power overriding the basic rights of an individual?

Or maybe it is just a simple issue which could be solved with a session or two in courses on gender-sensitivity.

Copyright: The Sun.

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