Myanmar migrants in Malaysia face imprisonment over passport delays

Myanmar migrants in Malaysia are facing arrest and imprisonment because the Myanmar embassy is taking too long to extend expiring passports, according to workers and activists.

Workers with legal documents are being forced to overstay their visas because the embassy is heavily scrutinising passports, taking four to six months to return them.

“There are many migrants whose legal status lapses because they did not get their passport returned from the embassy on time,” said Ko Kyaw Zay Lwin, chair of the Yadana Setka Free Funeral Service Association, based in Joho township in Malaysia. He estimated that around 15 percent of those workers end up arrested and imprisoned.

Over the last four years, the Malaysian government has arranged for temporary passports, called 6Ps, for every migrant whose passport expired, by working with representatives from the embassies, according to migrant activists.

Over that time, the Myanmar embassy issued about 60,000 6Ps. But after allegedly discovering some of the applicants had fabricated details in the paperwork, the embassy is now taking a hard look at all the applications, comparing them with the applicants’ original documents and checking on the listed household information.

This extra scrutiny is delaying the process, according to the activists.

“Previously, migrants who had fake nationality cards got passports,” said migrant rights activist U Thiha Maung Maung, head of a group that supports Myanmar’s prominent cleric Sitagu Sayadaw in Malaysia. “So the embassy is now scrutinising everything. Thus, reissuing the expiring passports has been delayed.”

In addition to the lengthy passport extension process, migrants in Malaysian detention camps are having trouble getting their citizenship confirmed, Myanmar migrant activists from Malaysia told The Myanmar Times on July 11.

They reported these two main problems to the ambassador, who has discussed the issues with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She is slated to visitwith migrant workers in Malaysia in August.

“I applied to extend my passport,” said Ko Wai Lin, a migrant in Malaysia. “It has been delayed for over three months. When I asked the embassy, it was not issued. Now, I and many Myanmar workers are undocumented because of the irresponsible embassy staff. I really am a Myanmar citizen. I even gave them all my documents.”

Ko Wai Lin has not gotten his passport back yet.

“Now, we don’t dare to go anywhere,” he said. “We are afraid of the police and crackdowns on illegal migrants. Everyone at the embassy should be replaced with new workers. Because of them, many migrants are in prison.”

Many migrants have also lost their work permits – which have to be issued by Malaysian immigration officials each year – because they could not apply on time without their passports.

There are many illicit ways that migrants can get their passport within a week if they can afford to pay a broker 1500 Malaysian ringgit (US$377), migrant worker Ko Wai Lin said.

“If migrants who are arrested for illegally overstaying their passport can show the judge proof that they are trying to extend their passport’s life, they can get a reduced sentence,” said Ko Kyaw Zay Lwin.

Although the Myanmar embassy in Malaysia announced a migrant workers’ list on its official Facebook page – compiling the names of people whose citizenship was confirmed for their passports – very often the page is overrun by Myanmar migrants complaining to the embassy because they have not gotten their passport back.

The Myanmar Times called the embassy on July 11 but they have not issued a response.

There are an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Myanmar migrant workers living in Malaysia, most of them without legal documents.


Source: The Myanmar Times

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