Malaysian authorities said they were trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and to prevent migrant workers from moving freely making it difficult to track and contact trace if needed.
There are over 382,000 documented Nepali workers in Malaysia mostly in manufacturing (75%), followed by service sector (21%) – they are second only to Indonesians. The number of Nepalis among the estimated million undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia is not known but is estimated to be significant.
Most undocumented Nepali workers have jobs as security guards or in eateries, and those outside the capital are engaged in agriculture. In 2019, there were massive nationwide raids, and despite the pandemic, the raids seem to have begun this year as well as the 1 May raid is not seen to be a one-time event.
On 22 March Malaysia’s defence minister called on undocumented migrant workers to get tested, and promised that their legal status would not be checked, and no action would be taken if they were not documented.
However, the government appears to have done a U-turn and decided to raid the dorms.
“With job losses and the need to give priority to their own citizens, perhaps undocumented workers are the easiest to get rid of, but it was hypocritical to conduct the raid on May Day after the reassuring speeches which had boosted people’s spirits,” said a Nepali worker.