On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Illegal immigrants look set to stay on

We were wrong. Much more than that, what we saw was shocking. The crowds were massive in many parts of the city.

Kuala Lumpur looked like it had been taken over by foreigners from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam.

I wish our politicians, who talked about using the soft approach of persuading illegal immigrants to go home, could have been there to see it for themselves.

Irene Fernandez, who heads Tenaganita, the non-governmental organisation which fights for the rights of illegal immigrants, should have been there, too.

There must have been thousands of foreigners, who didn't look like they were expatriate professionals, congregating in areas such as Kota Raya, Central Market and Suria KLCC.

I called up the news desk to send a reporter to do a story on it.

On Friday, the New Straits Times published a similar report.

But what disturbed me most was the obvious lack of police presence at these places despite the unusually large number of foreigners.

There is nothing wrong in foreign workers taking time off and enjoying themselves during the long holidays but it is a security concern.

It was reported on Saturday that police had detained up to 120 Indonesians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese over the previous two days following a clash between a group of Indonesian workers and a group of Bangladeshi and Nepalese workers.

The fighting took place at the Kota Raya shopping complex on Thursday, where I saw the thousands of foreigners gathering.

It was hardly surprising that a fight had broken out.

Dang Wangi Acting OCPD Deputy Supt Abdul Rahman Khalil said about 300 police personnel, including Federal Reserve Unit personnel and members of the dog unit, were monitoring places usually frequented by foreign workers.

He said that in the clash at Kota Raya, seven foreign workers were injured and were sent to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital for treatment.

The thousands of foreigners obviously outnumbered the 300-odd policemen on duty that day, hence their presence was not felt.

There are an estimated 1.2 million legal foreign workers while authorities believe there are another 800,000 illegal immigrants, half of whom were supposed to have left under the amnesty programme.

I have my doubts, like many Malaysians. Our security enforcement along our coasts is so weak that many of the Indonesians who left would probably be back by boat once the crackdown quiets down.

As it is now, we have been made to look silly with our decision to "advise" them to go home after the big talk of a crackdown against the illegal immigrants.

Worse, Indonesian Manpower Minister Fahmi Idris even had the audacity to come to Kuala Lumpur with threats of lawsuits against Malaysian firms, saying his government had engaged 10 Malaysian lawyers to prepare to sue Malaysian employers for allegedly not paying wages to Indonesian workers.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, have correctly told Indonesia to think twice because "it involves the status of workers who came here illegally".

The Malaysian Government, if you ask most people, has been overly nice.

Not many Malaysians have taken well to its move to backtrack on its decision to carry out the operation against illegal immigrants following the expiry of the amnesty.

The reasons are simple – there have been three postponements and most of us are quite fed up with the seeming ease with which foreigners come into Malaysia and sometimes, as easily, in securing permanent residence status here.

There is no need to list our frustrations because our politicians and security personnel know what they are. Many have become victims themselves.

We were told to postpone the operation against illegal immigrants indefinitely because many of them are from Aceh.

Instead of being mean, cynical and nitpicking, the Government has obliged although we could have just asked the rest of the Indonesians to go home.

What really makes us sore is that Malaysians have been threatened with lawsuits and attacked by the Indonesian media.

Next year, I think I will go back to Penang. It doesn't look like these foreigners will ever go back home at all.