Scholarly article on topic 'Securitization of Undocumented Migrants and the Politics of Insecurity in Malaysia'

Securitization of Undocumented Migrants and the Politics of Insecurity in Malaysia Academic research paper on "Law"

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Procedia Environmental Sciences
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{Securitization / "Undocumented Migrants" / "People Volunteer Corps (RELA)" / Malaysia}

Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Sasagu Kudo

Abstract Despite of strict policies implementation since late of 1980s, issue of influx of undocumented migrants has been a continuing concern for the Malaysian government. As the problem has been gradually securitized and reconstituted as a security issue symbolized by the conduct of massive operasi accompanied by a volunteer-based paramilitary force known as People s Volunteer Corps (RELA), the status of undocumented migrants in Malaysia has become a problem for maintaining human security. While increasing insecuritization of the plight of undocumented migrants under the fear of operations in Malaysia, there is frequently alleged rhetoric of the sukarelawan (volunteer) which has been functioning to legitimize the brutality caused by RELA personnel during the operations. Moreover, at the back of emphasizing threat of undocumented migrants and making progress in expanding its registered members as well as organizational authority, RELA has been utilizing the condition of insecurity, particularly with the correlation of election strategy pursued by the ruling party coalition called Barisan Nasional, being questioned for functioning as a political machine to collect wider supports in order to maintain regime security by major opposition parties.

Academic research paper on topic "Securitization of Undocumented Migrants and the Politics of Insecurity in Malaysia"

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Procedía Environmental Sciences 17 (2013) 947 - 956

The 3 International Conference on Sustainable Future for Human Security


Securitization of undocumented migrants and the politics of

insecurity in Malaysia

Sasagu Kudo*

Graduate School of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, 56-1 Toji-in Kitamachi, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8557, Japan


Despite of strict policies implementation since late of 1980s, issue of influx of undocumented migrants has been a continuing concern for the Malaysian government. As the problem has been gradually securitized and reconstituted as a security issue symbolized by the conduct of massive operasi accompanied by a volunteer-based paramilitary force known as People's Volunteer Corps (RELA), the status of undocumented migrants in Malaysia has become a problem for maintaining human security. While increasing in securitization of the plight of undocumented migrants under the fear of operations in Malaysia, there is frequently alleged rhetoric of the sukarelawan (volunteer) which has been functioning to legitimize the brutality caused by RELA personnel during the operations. Moreover, at the back of emphasizing threat of undocumented migrants and making progress in expanding its registered members as well as organizational authority, RELA has been utilizing the condition of insecurity, particularly with the correlation of election strategy pursued by the ruling party coalition called Barisan Nasional, being questioned for functioning as a political machine to collect wider supports in order to maintain regime security by major opposition parties.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of SUSTAIN conference's committee and supportedby Kyoto University; (OPIR), (GCOE-ES) , (GCOE-HSE),(CSEAS),(RISH), (GCOE-ARS( and (GSS) as cn-hosts.

Keywords: Securitization, Undocumented Migrants, People Volunteer Corps (RELA), Malaysia

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+81 90-4478-2173. E-mail address:

1878-0296 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of SUSTAIN conference's committee and supported by Kyoto University; (OPIR),

(GCOE-ES), (GCOE-HSE), (CSEAS), (RISH), (GCOE-ARS) and (GSS) as co-hosts.


1. Introduction

As shown in the current status of ethnic balance, the phenomenon of migration influx has been historically entangled to the social development in Malaysia. This is especially concerning the case of immigrants influx from Indonesia. According to the Malaysian Ministry of Human Resources, Indonesian workers dominate about half of approximately 2,109,954 foreign workers are currently working in Malaysia [1]. The strong connectivity between two countries also lead to the increase of undocumented migrants in Malaysia. Often represented as "public enemy" by Malaysian enforcements, enhance of undocumented migrants have been increasingly treated in terms of threat to national security. While the Malayisian government has been handling the problem of undocumented migrants in terms of security issue since 1990s, this has provoked international criticisms as well as causing diplomatic tentions among sending countries occassionaly. Since Malaysia's independence in 1957, Malaysian national security has developed inseparably from the comprehensiveness of its target as well as participant involved. People's Volunteer Corps Malaysia (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia), commonly known as RELA, has also developed along this historical background since its establishment in February 1972. While RELA was primarily organized in order to monitor communist insurgency, after the demise of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), the force has shifted the target to undocumented migrants particulary since 1990s. Although RELA has been frequently mobilized in crackdowns against undocumented migrants initiated by Malaysian immigration department, the auxiliary force has been a target of criticism for cases which involve mistreatment of migrants including abuse of power during operations.

With this background in mind, this paper examines the political dynamics sustaining threat perception against the continuing influx of undocumented migrants in Malaysia. While there have been numerous studies which focused on the dynamics of immigration flows, only a few attempts have been made to describe political motives that facilitate the construction of threat perception against undocumented migrants in Malaysia. Base on materials collected through interviews with high-ranks in security agencies under the Ministry of Home Affairs (Kementerian Dalam Negeri), the focal point of this article is to consider political dimension of security practice conducted against undocumented migrants under the involvement of RELA. Particularly tracing the historical development of RELA, this article discusses how the insecurity has been utilized as a political instrument with relation to the regime security. In addition, the social movements aimed to maintain the rights of migrants, including undocumented ones, and its current challenges will be discussed.

2. Influx of Undocumented Migrants and Operasi in Malaysia

As current situation of multi-ethnic background of Malaysian society highlights, the influx of migration is not a new phenomenon in Malaysia. Development of agriculture and mining facilitated influx of Chinese and Indian workers starting from 1890, and reaching its apex in 1920s [2]. As already mentioned in previous study, between the late 1950s and early 1960s, influx of Indonesian migrants into then Malaya was rather welcomed by Kuala Lumpur in order to maintain Malays' supremacy of ethnic balance over non-Malays [3]. The influx of migrants was further driven by introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) which started in 1971 together with the Second Malaysian Plan (1971-1975), and economic development achieved through 1980s. As an official attempt to control the movement of migrant workers, Indonesia and Malaysia signed the Medan Pact on May 12, 1984. The aim of the pact was to mitigate the flow of undocumented migrants and prevent exploitation of workers by tracking the flow of migrants [4]. Furthermore, Malaysian government's attempt to enhance surveillance illegal entry was fallowed by the establishment of a task force in 1985. In spite of these earlier efforts, it did not bring significant result to curb the number of undocumented migrants in Malaysia.

It is from the beginning of 1990s that Malaysian government introduced massive crackdowns to prevent migrants from illegal entry as well as arrest those staying without valid legal status. Operasi Nyah I was introduced in 1992 in order to strengthen border surveillance to prevent illegal entries. Following this was implementation of Operasi Nyah II from July, which aims to round up undocumented migrants staying illegally in Malaysia. The latter resulted in arresting 136,876 by the time of December 1995 [5]. The massive operations generally take place after certain period of amnesty program which legalizes undocumented migrants already in the country. For an instance, the most recent amnesty program started in August 2011 ended legalizing 480,995 undocumented migrants [6].

Despite the introduction of massive operations in 1990s, arrest of undocumented migrants continued, especially from Indonesia. At the end of 2001, between 60 and 80% of detainees in immigration detention centres were dominated by Indonesians and Malaysian government was reportedly facing a situation of deporting approximately 1,000 of them to Indonesia every week [7]. The threat perception against undocumented migrants in Malaysia was further bolstered by foreign workers' riots occurred through the period of 2000s. Following the sequential riots caused by foreign workers especially from Indonesia, in January 2002, Prime Minister Mahathir expressed his thought on the necessity of replacing Indonesian workers to foreign workers from other countries [8]. The incident has led Malaysian government to deport undocumented migrants to their home country. 350,000 undocumented migrants have passed through the island of Nunukan located between the border of Tawau and East Kalimantan, with 70 deaths said to have occurred lacking the sufficient coordination and preparation among the government agencies of Indonesia and Malaysia. There was also an introduction of new immigration law-- the Immigration Act No. 1154-- in August of the same year, which imposes penalties of caning, fines, and imprison. The establishment of Special Immigration Courts between December 2006 and March 2007 evoked additional concern. The primary aim of setting up special courts in fourteen immigration detention centres was to speed up the process of trial in order to handle thousands of cases related to illegal migration. Riots caused by foreign workers also occurred inside the immigration detention centres. In April 2011, a total of 109 detainees of who were mostly Burmese escaped from the Lenggeng Detention Centre located at the south of Kuala Lumpur. At the centre, there was also a riot in April 2008 by sixty detainees after being denied their move to the third country. Approximately a hundred police and Federal Reserve Unit personnel and another hundred of RELA personnel were mobilized to control the situation [9]. As these historical transitions of Malaysian immigration policies illustrates, enormous number of undocumented migrant influx has been requiring Malaysian government to implement comprehensive measures which require enormous man power. Although RELA has been continuingly criticized for the abuse of power during operations, mainly due to the lack of manpower and the limitation of budget, the immigration department insists the necessity of mobilizing RELA in order to implement operations [10]. Throughout 2010, 6,017 operations were exercised including small raids [11]. Although the number of operations was mitigated by the implementation of amnesty program in 2011, it still counted 4,156 with the involvement of 24,520 personnel from several law enforcement agencies, including RELA [12].

While the estimated number of undocumented migrants significantly varies depending on resources, RELA estimates that there are same number as that of legal foreign workers which is approximately two millions [13]. Added to this, as Malaysia is not a signatory country of the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, legal status of refugees and asylum seekers also falls into the category of undocumented migrants which makes their social position vulnerable in many situations. This has also preventing UNHCR from making full effort for the protection of refugees. For an instance, just before conducting massive operations in 2005, then Deputy Prime Minister Najib insisted there will be no distinction between illegal immigrants and holders of UNHCR letters [14]. While it bears noting that there seems to be a slight improvement in the stance of Malaysian government in handling the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, they are continuingly facing predicaments including being caught during operations.

3. Historical Development of RELA

Despite of rising concern against the continuing involvement in Malaysian immigration policies, RELA has been successful in maintaining its presence as the third security force in Malaysia. There are currently 2. 95 millions personnel registered, including 1,200 fulltime officers occupied by ex-military and ex-police officers. The volunteer personnel receive social insurance by registrations and the payment of 4 ringgit per hour for participating in activities. The historical development of RELA has its root in the Home Guard established during the time of Emergency, when the threat of communism was at stake for Malaysian national security.

Before the establishment of RELA, it was the Home Guard which was mobilized to mitigate the penetration of the communism in Malaysia. In June 1950, Sir Harold Briggs begins resettlement policy against Chinese living in Malaysia. Accompanied by police, the Home Guard monitored the plight of New Villages, where many of the Chinese were resettled in order to cut any sorts of contacts between the participants of CPM. At the end of 1950, the Home Guard held approximately 30,000 personnel of whom 25,400 were Malay, though included 3,500 Chinese and 800 Indians respectively [15]. While the Home Guard played crucial, though unspectacular, role to deter the penetration of communism, the force was disbanded at the end of 1959. The Home Guard killed 225 terrorists and captured 23, while the damage was 237 killed and 59 wounded during the period of Emergency [16]. The discussion over the creation of armed vigilante arose again in the middle of 1960s, then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak proclaiming "Our aim is to train as many people as possible' [17]. To the lesser extent, the movement of Konfrontasi in Indonesia which targeted Malaysia during 1963-1966 also boosted realization of strengthening national security.

Despite the result of decreasing number of communists in Malaysia through the Emergency period, activities of CPM still remained, particularly around Thai border. It was for this reason that the Home Guard was reorganized and transformed into RELA in January 1972 with the effect of Essential Rules (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) 1966. As an agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs, RELA has developed relying on the spirit of volunteerism. What characterizes security policies in Malaysia is its comprehensiveness of threat perception as well as participants which is illustrated in the concept of KESBAN. It first introduced in 1971 facing the second communist insurgency, emphasizes the importance of socio-economic factors in order to maintain national security [18]. In this sense, RELA has traditionally been involved inseparably from social development. While the policies against communism were mainly led by police force during the first Emergency, it is also worth noticing that Malaysian army was significantly strengthened during 1970s [19]. At the time of October 1973, 15,430 personnel were registered to the Home Guard in peninsula Malaysia. Adding to the role of protecting villagers residing in border areas, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced to increase the member to 50,000 in six months aiming not only to strengthen its security capability but to facilitate the national development especially in rural areas [20]. In September 1975, the Prime Minister Tun Razak expressed his concern against the situation of "New Emergency. In fact, at the time of the middle of 1975, estimated 2054 members of communists were still active near the Thai border, comprised of Thai dominating over a half [ 21]. There were also attacks to headquarters of the Police Field Force. Numbers of police and security force were injured and killed. (nder this circumstance, the middle of 1970s saw a boost of the localization of Malaysian national security policy. The patrolling activities conducted by RELA were also complemented by rukun tetangga, groups of local district.

Trilateral dialogue between Malaysia, Thailand and CPM which began in 1985 brought the result of ceasefire agreement in December 1989. Diminish of the threat of communism also meant the emergence of a new challenge for RELA as a security force. In this background, throughout the first half of 1990s, discussion arose particularly focusing on the necessity of continuing presence of RELA for Malaysian

security. In April 1994, Menteri Besar of Perlis Dr. Abdul Hamid Pawanteh contended that since there was no existential threat to Malaysian society, RELA should focus more on community based welfare activities in order to prove their worth [22]. The ambiguity of organizational identity appears to have been well recognized by the officers of RELA themselves. In October of the same year, National Security Council's deputy secretary Ramli Abdul Rahman, who was RELA's Director-General for eight years, insisted the necessity of formulating new strategies to "ensure RELA remained respected' [23].

Undoubtedly, it was in this background that RELA's involvement in security operations intensifies. Crackdowns against undocumented migrants usually take place after receiving complaints from locals. RELA and other security forces are mobilized whenever the immigration department judges the lack of personnel to conduct operations through investigations [24]. With the organizational philosophy of sukarelawan (volunteerism), it can not be denied that RELA has been continuingly contributing to the development in Malaysia, particularly through many types of community services called Projek Bakti in recent years, there have always been sceptical arguments about RELA's expanding role at the same time. This is especially the case for the massive crackdowns which have been a source of diplomatic tension and controversy particularly with Indonesia since the middle of 2000s. In the context of presence in Malaysian immigration policy, the year of 2005 brought a watershed for the organizational development of RELA. In March 2005, Operasi Tegas was launched with enormous number of officers from the immigration department, police, National Registration Department and Prison, RELA, and rukun tetangga. It is before the implementation of operations that the government swiftly strengthen authority of RELA. In accordance with the Essential (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, RELA volunteers were given authority to "where [they have] reasonable belief that any person is a terrorist, undesirable person, illegal immigrant or an occupier, to stop that person in order to make all such inquiries or to require the production of all such documents or other things as the competent authority may consider necessary." The Regulations also allowed volunteers to enter and search any premises, public or private, without a search warrant, to bear firearms, and to demand documents from members of the public, provided the appropriate RELA officials give approval.

Facing the implementation of Operasi Tegas, Indonesian government sent eight television stations and 12 politicians to monitor the procedure of raids against undocumented migrants. Added to this, prior to the operation, then President Yudhoyono sent a letter asking for humanitarian treatment of Indonesian undocumented migrants. The government and human rights organizations in Indonesia were not alone to show concerns against massive crackdowns. The government of the Philippines, as well, alleged for treatment against undocumented migrants, though sent an official letter showing gratitude for careful treatment of undocumented migrants afterward. Although Indonesian government response was rather moderate, Indonesian civil society organizations were quick to problem the issue of large scale operations enhanced by the presence of RELA. In March 2005, KOPBUMI, a Jakarta-based advocacy group working for the rights of migrants, brought the issue of migrant workers to the UN Commission of Human Rights alleging the need of ceasing the massive seizure taken against Indonesian workers. In 2007, several Indonesian politicians also called for withdraw of Indonesian ambassador in Kuala Lumpur to appeal strong concern against the plight of ill-treatment of Indonesian migrant workers. In Indonesia, the public outcry was intensified when a wife of Indonesian diplomat was arrested and detained by RELA personnel in October 2007. As the numbers of cases of power abuse caused by RELA personnel provoked, the force was prohibited to conduct operations against undocumented migrants without being accompanied by immigration department.

The counter-discourses against RELA's involvement in security operations against undocumented migrants are steadily increasing and constituted by several aspects. Firstly, appropriateness of security force base on volunteer members being involved in security practices has been covertly questioned from organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as non-government

organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs). (ntil recently, the conditions for the registration had been only a few, which are to be Malaysian citizen aged 16 for female and 18 for male, though this was raised to the age of 18 in May 2012 as will be described below. As the size of registered grew significantly, RELA has shortened the period of basic training program from 10 days to 7 days in 2010. While the program includes a class for learning about basic human rights which is conducted by officers of the National Human Rights Commission (S(HAKAM), it is obvious that incidents of power abuses caused by RELA members during operations and other patrolling activities is an outgrowth of the lack of sufficient training process.

Secondly, RELA has been criticized for the miss treatment of undocumented migrants holding UN cards. Although there are nearly 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers, as Malaysia is not a signatory country of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, refugees and asylum seekers lacks sufficient legal status. Moreover, Malaysian enforcements have been accused of making arrests during operations. It is in this context that some of the international organizations have been critical to the form of massive operations with the involvement of RELA. In 2009, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, addressing the involvement of RELA to the security operations and violation of human rights. Likewise, Amnesty International made a policy recommendation to displace RELA from all kinds of Malaysian immigration policies in a report published in 2010 [ 25 ]. Apart from these critical allegations, the organizational philosophy of "volunteerism" has been giving members of RELA a unique position as a security force, legitimizing security practice without taking responsibility.

Added to the issue of undocumented migrants, RELA has been eager to involve in other patrolling and surveillance activities. Currently, members of RELA are also deployed for monitoring of illegal smuggling along Thai border, patrolling in immigration detention centres and patrolling crime hot spots accompanied by police and other enforcement forces, which is known as "Rondaan 1 Malaysia' under the Government Transformation Programme. With the development of various policing programs, the Home Minister Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein emphasizes that RELA has been contributing to the "government success story on crime' [26]. What needs to be emphasized here is that in order to maintain organizational identity as a security agency, there has to be a threat to encounter. In this context, as can be illustrated as a "patchwork of insecurity", RELA has been widely adding the source of social dangers to maintain and stabilize the organizational identity as the third security force in Malaysia. As Didier Bigo observes, the process of securitization should be seen as entrenched to the process of insecuritization of daily life, constructing new dangers and connecting them to one another [27]. It is also worth noticing that the practice of securitization, whatever the target is, can be legitimized and further sustained by using objective data of which Villumsen Berling calls the "objective aura of science/' [28]. With this aura of science, interacted with public fear, the negative impacts securitization act contains (in this case, stern actions against undocumented migrants) can easily be overlooked or tolerated by the majority of public. Furthermore, mobilization of scientific facts entails effect of limiting the room for counter-discourse. While the government has been confident in reducing crimes, in July 2012, former Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan accused the government for manipulating crime rates. Just before this allegation had been raised, the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), a unit under the Prime Minister's Department, released a statistic showing country's crime index fell by 10.1 % between January and May 2012. This has caused wider dispute over the link between crime index and public perception against the fear of crimes.

As 2012 is the 40th year since the establishment of RELA, there has also been an attempt to clarify and establish RELA's organizational presence in Malaysian society. In June 2012, the Malaysia Volunteers Corps Act 2012 came into operations. With this act, condition for the enrolment has been raised to the age of 18 for both men and female. Although RELA remains to involve in immigration policies, in

accordance with the new act, existing power to carry fire arms and to make arrests had been banned. While this might contribute to reduce the abuse of authority by members of RELA, another issue of concern still remains. Apart from the concern of the protection of human rights of migrant workers, RELA has been accused for being machinery to maintain the security of present political regime dominated by Barisan Nasional (BN). In the next section, the underlying political motives of RELA's recent expansion will be focused.

4. The Politics of Insecurity and Utilization of the Fear of Crimes

While RELA has been increasingly involving in maintaining security against undocumented migrants since 1990s and expanding targets to other criminal issues in recent years, there is also another dimension of security in which RELA has correlation. It is security of the political regime lead by Malay-based political party UMNO. As Jef Huysmans notes, it is important to bear in mind that the insecurity is essential part of pursuing security strategies [29]. The necessity of danger, therefore, is inevitably entangled to the practice of securitization—making of enemy. In this sense, it is important to focus not only on the surface of how security policies are made and implemented but also on the political factors that sustains security practice against undocumented migrants and legitimizes RELA's involvement despite of criticisms.

As John Funston acutely points out, along with the development of rukun tetangga, RELA has been historically mobilized to gain public royalty against state apparatus [30]. According to his observation, under the New Emergency, RELA members were also given mandate to monitor student demonstrations in 1974 and had been advised not to participate in these anti-government activities. As mentioned above, full time officers in RELA are dominated by ex-military and ex-police officers. It is worth noticing that Malaysian military and, to a lesser extent, Malaysian police, have developed based on the dominance of Malays. The tendency of Malay-dominance in Malaysian security forces thus directly leads to Malay-dominance among officers of RELA, particularly with the high-ranks. Added to the anxious concern expressed from the perspective of human security, this has brought major opposition parties' sceptical view of the possibility of RELA being utilized for the present regime security. It was after the 12th General Election in 2008 that the number of registered RELA members markedly increased, in which BN drastically lost its popular vote and obtained only 49% in Peninsula Malaysia. This correlation of BN's electoral failure in the General Election and drastic expansion aftermath has been a problem as an attempt to undermine free and fair election. For an instance, Teresa Kok, a member of parliament from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), questions sudden increase of RELA members (543,375 in 2008 to 2,593,263 in 2010), insisting the possibility of the government recruiting to gain support for BN in the upcoming general election [31]. While the Election Commission has continuingly explained that RELA will not be qualified for postal voting, similar criticism and concern against RELA members to be mobilized as postal voters have been also raised by major opposition parties such as People's Justice Party (PKR) and Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), as well as by Bersih 2.0, a coalition of NGOs and opposition parties [32]. Furthermore, Bersih 2.0 issued a media statement titled "RELA must not be exploited for political gains' in April 2011, criticizing a reportedly incident that the chief-minister of Sarawak asked RELA members to be loyal to government by ensuring BN candidates' victory in state elections which took place in April 2011 [33]. It will be clear from these allegations that recent expansion of RELA has been questioned not only from the humanitarian perspective but also from the electoral perspective.

In January 2012, an assembly was held to celebrate 40th year of RELA's establishment. At the assembly, speaking in front of an estimated 20,000 RELA personnel, Prime Minister Sen Najib Razak indicated the possibility of mobilizing RELA against mass demonstration [34]. Although RELA was not

deployed to control BERSIH 3.0 which took place in July 2012, a mass demonstration calling primarily for free and fair election, the statement by Najib indicates the correlation between RELA and the regime security.

5. Maintaining and Prioritizing Human Security

With the situation of undocumented migrants living in the fear of raids, expansion of RELA has not only been criticized by human rights organizations or local NGOs and CSOs but also by major opposition parties from the perspective of free and fair elections. While both parties shares concern against RELA's expanding role, fundamental difference of interests between the two aspects should not be overlooked. While it cannot be denied that RELA's recent development has been criticized by various types of organizations, this is also leading to create difficulty in making consolidated movement for maintaining human security of those living under the fear of massive operations and to coordinate concrete policy to protect their human rights.

The serious obstacle that critics of government's migration policies face is the limitation of information access. SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia), one of the most active human rights advocacy group established in 1987, is not an exception. SUARAM has not been able to get an opportunity to directly discuss the issue of controversial massive operation with enforcement agencies including RELA, thus alternatively has been mobilizing strong links between politicians in order to pull out information from the government by questioning in the Parliament [35]. Facing this situation, there is a tendency of officers of NGOs to take up a new course as politicians. While the tendency will bring some interests to NGOs, at least in terms of easy access to information, this is not a phenomenon without risk in terms of creating well-balanced relation between civil society and state in Malaysia. As Meredith Weiss warns as "the risk of creeping partisanship' [36], the intrusion of civil society activists into political arena contains danger to undermine the fundamental role of which civil society is counted to play.

At the multinational level and especially in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), dialogue on the creation of law-binding mechanism for the protection of migrant workers has been discouraged predominantly by the different stance on the treatment of undocumented migrants between sending countries and receiving countries. This tendency is clearly indicated by the status of ratification of the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrants and Members of Their Family. Among ASEAN member states, only Indonesia and the Philippines have ratified the convention. Although ASEAN has managed to agree on the ASEAN's Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers in 2007, the lack of agreement among sending countries and receiving countries has been giving an impression of ASEAN "doing business as usual/' While one of Indonesian official insists that Indonesia's top priority on the construction of ASEAN Community should be to establish legal framework to protect all migrant workers [37], there is no doubt that this will not be an easy task under the circumstance of lacking fundamental consensus.

Although the discussion on the protection of migrant rights slows down at the ASEAN official level as well as bilateral government level, there is an interesting institutional development at middle level between regional and national levels. This is indicated by the establishment of South East Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum (SEANF), a coalition of national human rights commissions comprised of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor Leste and Thailand. During recent years, SEANF eagers to promote human rights including the protection of migrant workers through policy recommendations to both regional institutions such as ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and SEANF member states. One of a participant from SUHAKAM insists that, unlike ASEAN official track-1 network facing enduring divide between sending countries and receiving country of migrants, there is no sensitivity in SEANF discussing the human rights protection of migrants including

undocumented ones [38]. While the institutional framework is relatively new, it is possible to say that SEANF's unofficial character has potential capability to provide impetus to mitigate discourse of fear against undocumented migrants' domestically in receiving countries and also facilitate increase of human discourse at regional level.

In summary, relying on the strong social effect of the discourse of dangers, RELA has managed to maintain, and further sustain organizational authority since the period of emergency. While it is clear that RELA has been contributing to tackle the issue of undocumented migrants complementary, there is a possibility of RELA being machinery to maintain support for the ruling political party UMNO and to protect present political regime lead by BN. While there is diversification of counter-discourse against RELA's expansion in recent years, this is posing a dilemma for the NGOs and CSOs to concentrate and prior the protection of human rights for undocumented migrants.

6. Conclusion

Despite the difficult circumstance under the coercive political regime, it cannot be denied that the social movement to foster the protection undocumented migrants in Malaysia has been gradually developing in recent years. However, regardless of vagueness of organizational identity after the de-securitization of communists' threat in 1989 and enduring criticisms against involvement in raids against undocumented migrants, RELA has survived for 40 years and maintained its organizational identity as the third security force in Malaysia. Combined with the role of volunteering activities for social development, Director General of RELA shows his confidence in the role of RELA in Malaysian society [39]. In which way will RELA be developing in the context of Malaysian security is open to question. While the efforts to improve RELA's organizational image as volunteer force serving nation have been seen, as sceptical view against RELA still remains strong inside and outside of Malaysia, it will be task requiring long time effort to accomplish.


This research was financially supported by KOKUSAITEKI research fund 2012-2013 provided from Ritsumeikan University, particularly for conducting field works in Malaysia.


[1] International Organization for Migration, Labour Migration from Indonesia: An Overview of Indonesian Migration to Select

Destination in Asia and the Middle East, International Organization for Migration, 2010. p. 41.

[2] For the historical overview of the dynamics of immigration in Southeast Asia, see Sunil S. Amrith, Migration and Diaspora in

Modern Asia, Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[3] See, for example, Joseph Chinyong Liow, The Politics of Indonesia-Malaysia Relations: One Kin, Two Nations, Routledge, 2005.

p. 147.

[4] Azizah Kassim, "The Unwelcome Guests: Indonesian Immigrants and Malaysian Public Responses/' in Southeast Asian Studies,

25: 2, 1987. p. 268.

[5] Azizah Kassim, "Illegal Alien Labour in Malaysia: Its Influx, Utilization, and Ramifications/' in Indonesia and the Malay World,

25: 71, 1997. p. 62.

[6] Bernama Media, May 15, 2012.

[7] New Sunday Times, December 9, 2001.

[8] Joseph Liow, "Malaysia's Illegal Indonesian Migrant Labour Problem: In Search of Solutions," Contemporary Southeast Asia,

25: 1, 2003. p. 51.

[9] The Star, April 22, 2008.

[10] Interview with the Director of Enforcement Division in Malaysian Immigration Department, March 28, 2012.

[11] Azizah Kassim and Ragayah Haji Mat Zin, "Policy on Irregular Migrants in Malaysia: An Analysis of its Implementation and Effectiveness/' The PIDS Discussion Paper Series, no. 2011-34, Philippine Institute for Development Studies, 2011. p. 22.

[12] Bernama Media, May 15, 2012.

[13] Interview with the Director of Corps Development in RELA October, 2011.

[14] The Star, March 3, 2005.

[15] The Times, January 26, 1951.

[16] The Straits Times, December 27, 1959.

[17] The Straits Times, January 11, 1965.

[18] For the detail of historical development of Malaysian comprehensive security concept, see Ruhanas Harun, "The Evolution and Development of Malaysias National Security/' in Abdul Razak Baginda ed., Malaysia's Security and Defence since 1957, Malaysia Strategic Research Centre, 2009.

[19] Harold Crouch, "The Military in Malaysia/' in Viberto Selochan ed., The Military, State, and Development in Asia and the Pacific, Westview Press, Inc., 1991.

[20] The Straits Times, October 3, 1973.

[21] R. S. Milne, "Malaysia and Singapore, 1975/' in Asian Survey, 16: 2, 1976. p. 190.

[22] New Sunday Times, April 17, 1994.

[23] New Sunday Times, October 2, 1994.

[24] Interview with an officer in Malaysian Immigration Department, March 27, 2012.

[25] Amnesty International, Abused and Abandoned: Refugees Denied Rights in Malaysia, Amnesty International, 2010.

[26] The Star, April 18, 2012.

[27] Didier Bigo, "The Möbius Ribbon of Internal and External Security (ies)," in Mathias Albert, David Jacobson, Yosef Lapid eds., Identities, Borders, Orders: Rethinking International Relations Theory, University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

[28] Trine Villumsen Berling, "Science and Securitization: Objectivation, the Authority of Speaker and Mobilization of Scientific Facts/' in Security Dialogue, 42:4-5, 2011. p. 388.

[29] Jef Huysmans, "Security! What Do You Mean? From Concept to Thick Signifier," in European Journal of International Relations, 4:2, 1998.

[30] John Funston, Malay Politics in Malaysia: A Study of the United Malays National Organisation and Party Islam, Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd, 1980. p. 270.

[31] Media Statement by Teresa Kok Suh Sim, Kuala Lumpur, April 4, 2011. <> (accessed on July 23, 2012)

[32] Free Malaysia Today, December 21, 2010.

[33] For the detail of the statement, see the website of BERSIH. <> (accessed on July 23, 2012)

[34] Malaysian Insider, January 28, 2012.

[35] Interview with an officer of Refugee Desk in SUARAM, November 1, 2011.

[36] Meredith L. Weiss, "Edging Toward A new Politics In Malaysia: Civil Society at the Gate?/' in Asian Survey, XLIX: 5, 2009. p. 756.

[37] Ben Perkasa Drajat, "An ASEAN Way of Protecting Indonesian Migrant Workers/' in Jakarta Post, May 3, 2012.

[38] Interview with an officer of International Issues and Cooperation Division in Human Rights Commission Malaysia, March 27, 2012.

[39] Interview with the General Director of RELA, October 21, 2011.