Migrant labour – what exactly is Malaysia’s policy?

While I’m writing this, Malaysia has been taking some steps with regard to migration and labour issues.

First off, Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim announced that the government has revoked the UNHCR’s right to issue identity cards for asylum seekers and refugees.

According to Shahidan, this was due to the fact that the number of refugees in Malaysia who are suddenly working in the country has gone over 60,000, mostly from Myanmar. In other words, what Shahidan is saying that people who were smuggled in through death camps like the one in his home state of Perlis, should not be working or even trying to work to earn a living.

Shahidan was also critical of the UNHCR not providing lodging for these refugees and asylum seekers, using the lack of funds as an issue.

I did bring up this matter of allowing more refugees into the country when boatloads of Rohingyans appeared on our shores just last year, in my column on The Malaysian Insider.

Thus, I’ll bring up the issue again – who exactly is supposed to pay for refugees and asylum seekers?

Should it be the United Nations, who ask to permit these peoples into our borders? Or the Malaysian taxpayers, which include all of us now that we have implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST)?

Of course, we think of the most humane thing to do by letting them in, but what of after?

Do we issue them with identity cards and allow them work?

Yes, we should. After all, we have constantly been talking about ‘3D’ (dirty, difficult and dangerous) jobs that our Malaysian youth refuse to do, even though they are apparently “starving” in colleges.

But what about lodging, and even placement in hostels?

For the Rohingyan crisis in the late of last year, we placed them in national service camps which were not in use due to this year’s suspension of the programme. But what about future refugees?

Also, how long are we going to keep them in the middle of a camp placed nowhere near any place they can work to earn a living?

In the same breath, we are welcoming Syrian families who have been victims of a civil war in their own country. Yet, very few details are being revealed or asked about just how we will or are already treating them.

They’ve arrived on Malaysian shores two months ago, and yet we have no idea if they’ve been assimilated into the workforce, given proper lodging or even will be paying taxes once they have settled down.

In fact, these are the questions that the government should be addressing in terms of our migrant policy.

  1. Why aren’t we making them pay into the EPF?
    • No doubt, foreign workers are employees and yet they are not required to contribute to our Employee Provident Fund (EPF), something that Singapore makes mandatory with their CPF.
  2. Will they be paying taxes?
    • Foreign workers should be paying taxes for income gained in the country, shouldn’t they? After all, if this government and its ministers are so keen to take money from Uber and Grab, it should be equally keen to make the migrant workforce pay taxes just as equal as citizens.
  3. How much are we putting aside for asylum seekers and refugees?
    • As much as we want to help those in need of it, there must be a figure measured and reserved in which we can assist. After all, this federal government is keen on helping our own citizens, it should have a proper budget for those in our region who require the same assistance.
  4. Who defines refugees, asylum seekers and migrant labour?
    • This requires a lot of thinking, because we don’t recognise the UN Declaration on refugees or asylum seekers. Thus, we actually have no obligation to help them officially, which is a huge issue when it comes to these people being harassed by the authorities, as we saw in the report post Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein’s 6P programme.
  5. Finally, can all these be engraved in stone somewhere?
    • Not to say much, but insofar dealing with foreign workers, asylum seekers and even refugees, Malaysia is extremely whimsical with no proper framework in place. This needs to change as we become a mature nation, if not sooner.

Of course, I personally believe we should take in those less fortunate than ourselves, but it should not be done at the expense of our own poor and downtrodden, nor should it be seen more important than our own citizens’ welfare.

And honestly, it is time we settle this issue and answer our questions regarding what needs to be determined before we face yet another wave of migrants, find another death camp up North, or even find another flotilla of refugees fleeing violence.

If Shahidan is in charge of this issue from now on, then by all means, his ministry and those under his portfolio should think this through now.


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