Mar 15, 2005

Malaysia Deals with their Illegal Immigration Problem

It was back in 1988 while I was in Singapore that I made my first trip to Malaysia. It was just across the causeway into Johor to visit a Singaporean friend's tropical fish farm.

The journey there was eventful, finally getting out of the city-state of Singapore and into the jungles of Malaysia. I asked if we would see any monkeys on the way, and sure enough we did, a whole family of them blocking the road. It took about two hours to get there and, here it was, not really much to see, a fairly large run down house on about 10 acres of land surrounded by huge pools of water and each pool with an aeration pump whirring away. The pools also had a few wooden planks extending out with nets attached to them. Inside the pools were a few different types of tropical fish including black mollies and golden swordfish. Fish are packed up in plastic bags once a week and then sold to another company that exports them to countries throughout the world. A nice little business, but it requires land and a lot of workers. The workers are Indonesian, not because they are fantastic workers, but because they are cheap, very cheap earning not much more than US100 dollars a month and sleeping in a small bunkhouse made of plywood.

There was not really much to see and after a while I wandered around the fish farm and noticed a twisting brackish river bordering the back of the property. I went back up near the house and asked my Singaporean friend if he had any fishing line and a hook. So I managed to get a tree branch, some fishing line and a hook and went out back to see what I could catch. My friend followed me out to see what I might catch as well. It didn't take long before the hook got stuck on the bottom and my fishing adventure came to abrupt halt. So Im trying to gently tug at the line without breaking it hoping to get the hook free when my friend calls over one of the Indonesians and asks him to dive in and unhook the line. This river is completely overgrown, dangerous, full of snakes and God knows what else and my friend asks one of the Indonesians to dive in. I protest to my friend and tell him to forget it and he nonchalantly explains to me that he only has one hook but that he has several Indonesian workers.

That experience years ago left a lasting impression on me and helped give me some insight into how foreign workers are viewed over here.

And so now, the Singapore Straits Times is reporting that Malaysia is facing a virtual shutdown after sending back hundreds of thousands of illegal Indonesians recently. Complete hyperbole from the Singapore Straits Times but typical and to be expected. You could say the Singapore Straits Times is representative of many Singaporeans who they themselves regard Malaysians as just barely above Indonesians intellectually. Singaporeans in general think of themselves as intellectually superiour to not only Indonesians and Malaysians but to all the Southeast Asians.

The so-called cheap foreign labor is nothing more than modern day slavery. Southeast Asia's dirty little secret and one of the main reasons they can flood the USA and European markets with cheaper priced items.

There is no "shutdown" here in Malaysia, no one is starving. What Malaysia is doing is simply dealing responsibly with an illegal immigration problem that has got out of control and prosecuting those involved. It is only natural that unscrupulous companies and individuals would attempt to use this situation to immediately hike prices and then blame it on the lack of illegal workers.

It's not that no one wants the slave labour anymore. They just want it regulated. ;-)

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