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Syed Abdul Razak Sayed Mahadi
Hanafi Hussin
Abdullah Khoso


Migrant workers’ recruitment and travelling from Indonesia to Tawau (Sabah), Malaysia is a serious matter, which has not been thoroughly assessed especially the role or help of local employers in Sabah and the (un)secrete routes they use to bring the undocumented migrant workers to Sabah. This article is based on the Indonesia Labour Migration to Sabah (ILMS) Survey (in Syed Abdul Razak [2010]) conducted in 2009 and 2010, in which 896 migrant workers (both documented and undocumented) were interviewed. Also, informal interviews were conducted with employers, intermediaries and the officials in Malaysia and Indonesia. The article found that mandors and local brokers/village sponsors played an important role in the recruitment process of migrant workers. Mandors and local brokers (could be the village sponsors) worked within the social networks; they formerly linked employers with prospective migrant workers; while the brokers linked new migrants to institutional networks that operated through legal and unauthorised channels. However, the real demand or space for undocumented migrant workers was created from Sabah. The employers played an important role to sustain the problem of undocumented migrant workers. The study also found various factors, which facilitated migrant workers’ movement to Sabah that included improvements in water transport and telecommunication systems, the long-established, familiar networks, and the availability of groups which provided fake documents. There was more inclination to use informal channels because of the cost and procedures, whereas the migrant workers willing to take any kind and level of risk in search of livelihoods. The article concludes that for migrant workers, there was no clear distinction between legal and undocumented recruitment because the same people (mandors) arranged both things for them, but the real pull or demand came from the local people in Sabah.


Keywords: migrant workers, recruitment, travelling, illegal, Tawau, Indonesia


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Author Biography

Hanafi Hussin, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, University of Malaya

Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences (IOES), University of Malaya