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]
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.