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
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
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
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
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