On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Locals pay heavy social price for foreign labour

In the Klang Valley, motorists now find fewer
Bangladeshis working at petrol stations. It's the Malaysian cashier they deal
with now. Over the next few weeks, the immigration department together with the
other authorities will begin a crackdown on illegal foreign immigrants. This
crackdown is long overdue.

We are paying a heavier price than what most Malaysians think for the large
influx of foreigners.

For a country with a population of about 20 million people, it has been
estimated that there are two million illegal foreign workers about 10 per cent
of the total population.

The frightening part is that no one can say for sure the exact figure because
they are illegals. It can be a million, two million or even more. Most of these
illegals are believed to be found in Sabah, Johor, Selangor and Pahang.

No government can allow a situation where you have two million foreigners
moving around in your country with their identities unknown. It is a threat to
national security, to put it in a nutshell.

Malaysians are generally aware of the social implications posed by the illegal

They have seen or read about the mushrooming of squatter colonies, the aggressive
traders at pasar malam and in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, they have taken over a
section of the city.

We have Malaysian hawkers who simply lease their licences to these  foreigners, making it difficult for our
enforcement officers to carry out their duty.

There are already far too many crimes being committed by foreigners. Two weeks
ago, about 200 convicts were sent back to Indonesia with the other illegal

In Johor, fights between locals and Bangladeshis, resulting in deaths, have
been reported.

In Sabah, first-time visitors bump into more foreigners than locals. The
validity of the documents shown by these foreigners, mostly Indonesians and
Filipinos, is questionable.

And it is difficult to differentiate between locals and foreigners, especially
in Sabah. So much so that a few years ago, one illegal foreigner was made a
municipal councillor there.

Of greater concern is the political and economic consequences to the

The average Malaysian, eating at the SS2 hawker centre in Petaling Jaya, may
still put on an approving smile when he finds the Indonesian helper serving
chee cheong fun or leng chee kang speaking better Cantonese than him.

But this will no longer be a novelty if the economy slows down because it will
then be difficult to send the foreign workers back.

Malaysians now live and spend as if the good times will roll forever.  Foreign labour is a short-term answer.

Many of these foreigners have brought along their families. It has been
reported that there are increasing demands for health and other facilities for
these foreigners in many states.

We are facing a pressing shortage of doctors, nurses and teachers and yet we
have to deal with the demands of foreigners, many of whom are illegals and pay
no tax.

So, before any non-governmental organisation talk about the rights of illegal
foreigners, they should also think about the rights of the average

A couple of NGOs have given the impression that illegal foreigners and legal
workers in Malaysia have been so badly exploited and ill-treated by the
authorities and employers that they have nowhere to turn to.

There are crooked agents and employers, no doubt. But if the situation is that
bad, illegals wouldn't be camping at the Thai border trying to sneak in.

Until June last year, the labour department received more than 200 complaints,
mainly about salaries, from foreign workers. Most of the complainants were

Let's not kid ourselves that these people are such a pathetic lot that  they have nowhere to turn to.

Surely, these NGOs cannot expect detention centres to give five-star hotel
treatment to illegal immigrants or expect these illegals to have sound health
after weeks of hiding in the jungle.

We have read about Indonesian illegals seeking refugee status because they were
allegedly separatists demanding Acheh's independence.

That is just the beginning. What's there to stop us from having such  political and diplomatic headaches if we
don't act against illegal immigrants now?

Many developed countries have found that foreigners set up base to  expound their political leanings. Many of
these foreigners also contribute financially to the coffers of political

For example, in London, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers send out their  propaganda literature all over the

In Singapore, relations between the Philippines and Singapore, both Asean
members, reached an all-time low following a dispute over the sentencing of a
Filipina maid.

For Malaysia, with its proximity to its neighbours, the potential of such a
problem is even greater. We simply cannot have room for any form of subversion
or diplomatic dispute.

Our trade unions have taken the right stand by protesting against the influx of
foreign workers.

Over-dependence on cheap foreign labour will be at the expense of our workers
and unionists. A shrinking union membership will be bad in the long run.

Malaysia needs skilled workers and professionals. Its ratio of scientists and
technologists is 400 per million population compared with Japan's 6,000,
Germany's 4,700 and Singapore's 1,870 per million.

Most of our scientists are, at present, in the public sector and engaged mostly
in agricultural research.

This won't do if we are serious about our commitment towards industrialisation
and turning Malaysia into a developed country.

There have been so many announcements of private universities being set up it
is impossible to keep track of them. Setting up universities is one thing,
getting good lecturers is another.

So, if we talk about foreign university branch campuses, we will need foreign

There are simply not enough local lecturers. It will be good for the  country to tap the expertise of qualified
foreign lecturers as we reduce our outflow of money spent on education

We can certainly do with the help of foreign professionals but for unskilled
foreigners, we have to put our foot down and send them back.

The problem of illegal immigrants has taken a toll on us. The Home Ministry has
proposed several tough measures but these have to be enforced

Laws alone will not be sufficient if it takes ages to punish the offenders,
especially the errant employers.

The punishment must not only be heavy but the media must provide maximum
publicity to deter others who harbour thoughts of breaking the law.