Unscrupulous agents exploit a landing visa provision to get workers into Malaysia
On March 27, when Suresh Rajkumar from Tirunelveli, boarded a flight to Malaysia from Cochin International Airport in Kerala, he never thought that he would be cheated.
He was the sole breadwinner of his family and had a loan to be cleared - he had taken one to pay for his sister’s wedding, for the education fee for his younger brother and for his widowed mother.
“My father had died when I was a schoolboy. Eventually, I had to shoulder my family’s responsibilities. I had a decent job at Kudankulam nuclear plant. But the pay was a bit low and it was not a permanent one too. So when I came to know that there is an agent in Nagercoil, a nearby district, sending people to Malaysia, I approached him. But never thought that he will cheat us,” Suresh told The Lede.
Suresh and his three friends paid the agent Rs 1.25 lakh each. They were told that they will get a job in the Kuala Lumpur airport’s cargo section.
“But we were cheated. From the airport, an Indian came to pick us. He took us to a congested shelter and lodged us there. We had to stay there for three weeks. Food was provided once a day. Finally after making frequent calls to the agent in India, we were taken to different workplaces,” Suresh added.
While Suresh was given a job in a courier company, others were sent to different offices. Suresh was offered a job in airport cargo section but was employed in a courier office.
And eventually, he was not given the promised salary either.
“I was told that, I will get a salary of 2600 Malaysian Ringgit. But was given only 1300 Malaysian Ringgit,” Suresh added.
Luckily, Suresh was not caught for working in the courier company even though he was on a visit visa. But two of his friends were caught by the Malaysian police and jailed.
When they landed in trouble and started to look for help, Suresh got introduced to Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna, Advocate & Solicitor at Chambers of Sumitha and the Director of Our Journey, a CSO which helps migrant workers.
“We called Sumitha and she came to our help. Finally, we got out and came back. But one of our friends is still in the Malaysian jail only for working in an irregular situation,” Suresh added.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede from Malaysia over phone, Sumitha said that Indians getting duped in visa cheating cases are going up in Malaysia.
“On average six visa cheating cases are being dealt daily by our office, Sumitha Shanthi, a lawyer and migrant rights, activist in Kuala Lumpur, told The Lede.
According to Sumitha, the implementation of eNTRI visa system, which enables Indians to visit Malaysia on visit visa, is resulting in visa duping.
“The Indians, especially from South India, are being cheated by providing visit visa on the pretext of job visa. And when the migrants land in Kuala Lumpur, either they get stranded or arrested for working illegally,” Sumitha added.
“The Indian migrants were deceived by unscrupulous agents and employers into coming into Malaysia for employment using the online tourist visa (eNTRI visa) with the promise that the tourist visa can be converted to a work permit, which is not allowed in Malaysia,” Sumitha added.
In 2017, the Malaysian government introduced the Electronic Travel Registration & Information (eNTRI) facility which allows Indian nationals to enter Malaysia as tourists for a maximum of 15 days.
Thus the migrants using this visa end up overstaying and becoming undocumented.
eNTRI visa is offered only for the purpose of social visit and it cannot be converted for employment, but unscrupulous agents and employers have taken the opportunity to abuse the system and deceive the Indian migrants.
“Recently, we handled a case of four Tamilians who were cheated. We managed to get three sent back but one is still in a Malaysia jail,” she added.
According to a document tabled in the parliament on November 21, there is an increase of 24% in fake visa cases in 2019 till October 31, filed with the Indian authorities when compared to 2018.
The document reveals that while there were 278 cases reported in 2018, there were 342 cases till October 31, 2019.
And as per data available with Pravasiya Bhartiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), total number of complaints registered against fraudulent recruitment agencies in the last five years is 750.
“After the required examination of the cases, the State and Union Territory (UT) governments had requested for 132 prosecution sanctions from the Ministry of External Affairs,” the document reveals.
And the Ministry had also given prosecution sanctions in all such cases since 2015, thus enabling the State/UT to pursue prosecution of the accused illegal agents in a competent court of law.
The document also reveals that as per reports submitted by the State/UT, the number of persons arrested is 61 in such cases so far.
The agent who cheated Suresh was also arrested last week by Tamil Nadu police.
But Suresh had to be courageous and follow up the case persistently to get the culprit arrested.
However, migrant rights activists reveal that in most of the cases, IPC 370 is not charged against the agent who cheat the migrants.
IPC 370 is a section referring to buying or selling of any person as a slave.
“The Indian police only deal such cases by using section IPC 420,” Hubertson Tomwilson, a migrant rights activist and a lawyer, told The Lede.
IPC Section 420 deals only with cheating.
“We have to fight with police to make them charge IPC 420 against crook agents who cheat the potential migrants,” Hubertson said adding that the Indian police are least aware of the human trafficking sections and global definitions.
“The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation. In Suresh case, he was duped. He was subjected to forced labour. So, isn’t the IPC 370 valid here. But the police fail to follow that,” Hubertson added.
Why migrant rights activists demand for IPC 370 is because, it is only then that the crook agents get penalised severely so that they and others don’t dare to cheat another potential migrant.
The maximum punishment which can be awarded for crimes committed under IPC 420 is imprisonment for a term of seven year and fine.
But crimes committed under IPC 370, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, but which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
“Without imposing IPC 370 on such crook agents, this will continue. And without strengthening our anti-human trafficking laws, we won’t be able to solve such issues,” Hubertson added.