MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government asked Filipinos in Malaysia on Thursday to brace for a possible crackdown on illegal immigrants in the Southeast Asian country, where it estimates about 400,000 Filipinos live illegally.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said a Malaysian amnesty program for illegal immigrants that began in 2016 ends Thursday and advised Filipinos, especially those without immigration permits, to expect a crackdown as early as Friday.
The Philippine Embassy in Malaysia has helped 5,844 Filipinos without immigration papers since the amnesty was launched in January 2016, the department said in a statement. It added that the number is less than 1 percent of the estimated 400,000 undocumented Filipinos in Malaysia.
"We are reminding our countrymen in Malaysia, particularly those without legal immigration status, that the amnesty program ends today," Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Charles Jose said in the statement.
Jose advised Filipinos who comply with Malaysian immigration requirements "to exercise due prudence and to ensure they carry their legal documents at all times."
The Philippine Embassy "is ready to provide assistance to Filipinos, who may be affected by the intensified immigration operations," Jose said.
The Philippines is a major labor exporter and has faced many migrant labor crises.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte banned the deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait after the body of a Filipina housemaid was discovered in a freezer in a Kuwaiti home in February, in what he said was the latest in a growing number of deaths and abuse of impoverished Filipina maids in the oil-rich Arab nation.
Kuwait expelled the Filipino ambassador and recalled its envoy to Manila at the height of the diplomatic crisis, which later eased after the governments negotiated a new accord seeking better conditions for Filipino workers.
About a tenth of the more than 100 million Filipinos work and live abroad, many of them to escape poverty and a lack of opportunity at home. The earnings they send home have helped keep the Philippine economy afloat.
Many of the Filipinos in Malaysia have worked on plantations, in business establishments or as maids for decades. Crackdowns against illegal immigrants in Malaysia in the past have led to the deportation of thousands of mostly poor Filipinos, while others have languished in Malaysian jails.