Malaysia has a huge illegal immigration problem with much poorer Indonesia being just across the strait of Malacca from them. And Indonesians and Malays speak a mutually intelligible language and are racially related. It is as if all Mexicans spoke English and were of wholly European descent. As both countries are predominantly Muslim, however, some Western scruples are missing. Malaysia is more prosperous than Indonesia mainly because of its large Chinese minority. The Indonesians unwisely expelled most of their Chinese many years ago

Human rights watchdog Amnesty has urged Malaysia to abolish caning, saying that tens of thousands of migrants have received the “inhuman and degrading” punishment in recent years. Amnesty cited a statement in Malaysian parliament last week that said local authorities had caned at least 34,923 migrants between 2002 and 2008, 60 per cent of them from neighbouring Indonesia.

“Amnesty International urges the Malaysian government to rid the country of this cruel punishment,” the London-based group said. “Whipping someone with a cane is cruel, inhuman and degrading, and international standards make clear that such treatment constitutes torture.”

Apart from Indonesians, those caned were also from Bangladesh, India, Burma, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand. Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third largest economy, has 2.2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, who are the mainstay of the plantation and manufacturing sectors.

The caning sentence was added to Malaysian immigration laws since 2002, amid concern over the ramifications of having a large migrant workforce. Under the laws, those staying in Malaysia illegally are subject to a mandatory whipping of up to six strokes of the cane, fines and up to five years in jail. Caning is also carried out for serious offences including rape and drug trafficking.

“The practice is humiliating, and causes such pain that people have reportedly fainted. Those caned often carry scars, psychological as well as physical, for years,” Amnesty said.