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Reuters: Malaysian deportations underline fears of unrest
By Patrick Chalmers

30/1/2002 12:31 pm Wed

[Lagi masalah menghantui Mahathir... dan kali ini mungkin lebih getir jika tidak takkan (semua?) pekerja Indonesia takkan mahu dinyahkan berdasarkan satu dua tragedi keganasan (itupun belum dapat dibuktikan atau dibicarakan lagi). - Editor] malaysia/1012213921nKLR77930.ASP

ANALYSIS-Malaysian deportations underline fears of unrest

28 Jan 2002 10:32

By Patrick Chalmers

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Malaysia's plan to cut half a million Indonesians from its labour pool could hammer the country's manufacturers, construction sites and plantations while choking off money workers send home to their families.

The drastic measure, sparked by several violent incidents involving Indonesians, highlights Malaysian fears of social unrest imported from their populous Muslim neighbour.

With the economy struggling, and authorities holding dozens of suspected Islamic militants, the local media have leapt behind criticism led by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"I think there are too many of them (Indonesians). If it becomes a big movement, we will face problems," Mahathir said last week.

That rings hollow with Iwan, 26, an Indonesian who runs a stall in Chow Kit, a colourful Kuala Lumpur market.

Standing behind a wriggling mass of fresh catfish, the married father of two says those deported last week for rioting do not reflect the majority of Indonesians working in Malaysia.

"I do not like these problems. I came here to find money, not to find violence," he said.

Weekend newspapers carried pages of news, pictures, and commentary on a recent riot by Indonesian textile workers, Indonesian gang fights and a December fire that destroyed a detention camp for immigrants, most of whom were Indonesian.

Photos of men waving Indonesia's national flag during last week's riot at a hostel housing Indonesian workers from a factory in Nilai in the western state of Negri Sembilan hit raw nerves.

"The fact that the Indonesian flag was hoisted by the rioters in at least one instance shows that the act was premeditated, and one calculated to offend the sentiments of Malaysians," columnist Bunn Negara wrote in the Sunday Star.

Estimates vary as to how many Indonesians there are in addition to Malaysia's 23 million citizens, with Jakarta officials saying last year there could be a million and a half.


Home Ministry Secretary-General Aseh Che Mat, who announced plans to halve the number of registered Indonesian workers, spoke of 900,000 employed generally in construction, manufacturing and plantation jobs or working as housemaids.

The government wants businesses to recruit from other countries on top of a campaign to deport hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the majority from Indonesia, and close down detention centres established to contain them.

Labour-short Malaysia has long relied on foreigners to staff factories, building sites, restaurants and hotels. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and Indonesians also work as housemaids.

Indonesians were favoured because of their ethnic and religious bonds with Malaysia's Malay Muslim majority.

Lim Kit Siang, national chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, questioned whether the plan for mass deportations would ever come into effect. He said in a statement on Monday the plan could meet the same fate as one four years ago to deport one million foreigners, "which eventually came to nothing".

Whether Malaysian-based businesses can afford mass layoffs of their migrant labourers, illegal or otherwise, is not an issue that government officials generally talk about. They focus instead on all the money leaving the country through remittances.

Mustapa Mohamed, director of the government's National Economic Action Council, said foreign workers' remittances were around two billion ringgit ($526 million) a year.

"If this figure can be checked, it will help strengthen the country's economy," Bernama news agency quoted him as saying.

For Rokiah, 36, a soft-spoken Indonesian Muslim, clad in grey "tudung" head scarf, that would pose big problems to her extended family back in East Java.

"We are poor people looking to earn money," she says during a moment's rest from her job waiting tables at a Sikh-run curry house in Kuala Lumpur's Masjid India district.

"If people made some mistake then they should be sent back but people like me, who don't cause any trouble, why should we get sent back?" she said.