On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

National interests must come first

Risking their lives, they have  turned up in rickety boats that  made it through choppy waters,  carrying with them hopes of a better life.

Bringing along their families,  they are
prepared to be caught and  sent back by
the authorities  a  small price to pay, no doubt.

Like all matters which deal with  human
lives, there's always some  degree of
sympathy being evoked  on both

Some idealistic but naive non government organisations, for example, have
reacted angrily to the  use of the Internal
Security Act  against tekong darat who
bring in  these illegals.

These middlemen are no more  than just
human smugglers, to put  it bluntly,
cashing in on the misery  of these
unfortunate illegal immigrants.

They are not to be treated with  kid's
gloves. We can forget about  getting them
to volunteer information about their activities, especially their link with
corrupt officers.

There is a lot at stake here. Malaysia has to deal sensitively with  its neighbours  at the same time  grapple with the economic crisis   without straining bilateral ties.

Malaysia cannot appear to be  harsh in
dealing with human lives  but it cannot
allow pity to stand in  the way of
national security.

Like Singaporeans, Malaysians  are
worried about the influx of illegal immigrants which could lead to  social and political unrest, if

No country wants to take in thousands of unemployed people from  its neighbours when it has its own  problems to deal with.

The long-term implications,  should they
settle permanently, are 

We have already heard about foreigners giving birth in local hospitals,
stretching our overworked  hospital
staff. Their children are  already in our
schools, taxing our  resources

Well aware of the far-reaching 
consequences, Thailand, for example, has announced its decision to  expel one million foreign workers,  mainly from Myanmar.

Singapore, with a population of  three
million people, is worried  that the tiny
island republic would  be swamped
overnight with illegals. It has dealt severely with illegals under the law
which allows  whipping.

NGOs and the foreign media  should admit
that this problem is  not peculiar only
to this region.

In the United States, it has become a daily routine for its officers  to stop Mexicans and others sneaking across
its borders.

We have seen on television how  French
authorities drag African illegal immigrants out of their  homes.

In the United Kingdom, bona fide 
tourists, suspected of wanting to 
overstay, have been deported at the 
drop of a hat by immigration officers at Heathrow airport.

For years, Malaysia provided  shelter to
Vietnamese refugees.  The Vietnamese
problem was less  complicated in the
sense that they  made it clear they had
no interest  to settle here.

The refugees were kept in camps  until
they were relocated to a third  country.
Unfortunately, many  countries of their
choice were not  willing to accept

While many in these countries  were quick
with their criticism  about how the
Vietnamese were being detained, they were less accommodative when it came to
embracing these refugees.

In Malaysia, we see our officers 
distributing nasi bungkus to every 
illegal immigrant who is sent home.

We have been much more tolerant than many countries, particularly over the last
few years during  the boom period.

Desperate for manpower, Malaysian employers readily hire foreigners  with no questions asked  sometimes.

Yes, there are unscrupulous employers who prefer to employ illegals not only
because they are  cheap but also because
they can be  exploited.

Official figures put the number  of
foreign workers, both legal and  illegal,
in Malaysia at about two  million but
Malaysians cannot be  blamed if they
think the number is  higher.

Sabah, for example, has an estimated 400,000 foreigners, mostly  Indonesians and Filipinos, but this  looks like a conservative figure.

It wouldn't be cheap for us to  send back
these illegal immigrants,  who will keep
coming back. Keeping them in detention camps for  long periods is not the answer either.

Our neighbours can help if they  are
ready to send their ships to  take their
people back.

For the Foreign Ministry and the  police,
great diplomatic skill and  sensitivity
are required to manage  this

Maximum understanding and  goodwill,
without compromising  our national
interests, are needed.

It's a tall order, but Malaysians  must
not forget: in this present economic situation, charity has to begin at