Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ubiquitous migrants in KL (The Sundaily, 14/2/2013)


Ubiquitous migrants in KL

KUALA LUMPUR (Feb 14, 2013): Like Malaysians, a majority of the 2.3 million registered foreign workers in the country are drawn to the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Hailing mainly from Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia, many end up working and living in various hotspots in the capital.

Although some Malaysians have keenly accepted their presence and even stepped up to defend their rights, others view their presence as a menace, or even a threat, especially during public holidays when the city seems to be overrun by foreigners.

Upon visiting hotspots as well as tourist destinations to observe the changes foreign workers have brought, these reporters observed that several areas had become mini communities for them – a mishmash of various Asian cultures.

There are shops and services set up by migrants for migrants, such as the specialty restaurants commonly seen in places like Kota Raya and Chow Kit which are owned, staffed and patronised by foreigners.

Some enterprising ones have also monopolised services for their countrymen like getting work permits, flight tickets, jobs and even illegal trades like prostitution and gambling rings.

However, their presence has changed the city's bustling street markets from Chow Kit to Petaling Street.
Petaling Street, famous for its Chinese roots, have stalls manned by foreigners employed by local owners, changing the atmosphere and façade of the iconic street.

Checks with tourists garnered responses such as, "This isn't Chinatown, it's Southeast Asia Town," and "I don't see any Chinese here". Such observations stem from the fact that while foreign workers were easily visible at the front of the stalls, the local owners were sitting at the back.

It also cannot be denied that there is a strong communal environment in areas with a high population of foreign workers, so much so that locals could feel unwelcome.

However, it has been pointed out that safety issues do not stem solely from foreign workers and that in fact, many troublemakers are locals.

Malaysian Emergency Medical Services Association community services director, Doris Chen, said locals must be able to view the bigger picture and not develop ethnocentrism based solely on perception.

"For one, we rely on many of these people for the country to develop economically at its current pace, even if we don't realise it," she said.

Chen added that the general view is that foreigners took away jobs from locals but in reality, many locals do not want such menial jobs that pay minimum wages.

Anna, an advertising executive working in Masjid Jamek who declined to give her full name, said she feels unsafe on the streets when she sees a group of foreign workers.

"It could be perception, and I'm not against them coming here, but they should know their place as they are not at home any more," she said, echoing a sentiment many Malaysians share.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib has said that it is now a trend for Malaysians to seek the easy way out by hiring foreign workers.

"Foreigners either help man the stalls, or sometimes they even rent entire shops from locals," Ahmad Phesal said.

He added that the increasing presence of foreign workers is a sensitive issue as some find their presence advantageous while others see it as an "invasion", therefore authorities have to take into account both opinions when taking action.

Locals also feel these migrant workers will settle permanently in the country and cause overcrowding and cultural invasion.

However, Malaysian Karen Organisation joint secretary Saw Tin Aung dispelled this myth, claiming many foreign workers wish to return home to their families.

"Of course, they don't want to stay here. They miss their home, country, food and culture, and most importantly ... their families.

"Many just want to work and save up as much as they can to provide a more comfortable life for their families back home," he said.

Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia coordinator Pranom Somwong said Malaysians should try to understand the reasons behind this mass migration.

"We need to look at the unique unequal distribution of opportunities and resources and how this is a major driver of the movement of people.

"The history of migration is the chronicle of peoples' struggle to survive and to prosper, to escape insecurity and poverty, and to move in response to opportunity, so migration will always happen," she said.

Pranom further said many countries, including Malaysia, practise segregation by "keeping migrants in selected areas, out of the mainstream society".

"As a migrant in an alien country, language and cultural differences are major barriers.

"Much of their frustration stems from Malaysia not having adequate rights for them, leaving them fearful of arrest, deportation, and abuse," she said. - The Sun Daily, 14/2/2013, Ubiquitous migrants in KL

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