catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Illegals in Malaysia

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Just this evening I returned to Australia from a long holiday that included visits to relatives in Malaysia and Singapore as well a road trip to Thailand.

One of the fascinating things I learned from talking to relatives and reading the popular press is that apparently illegal immigration is as big an issue in Malaysia nowadays as it is in most Western countries. Of a population of over 23 million (see this July 2005 estimate it is belived that there may be anything from 1 million to 2 million undocumented illegal workers in Malaysia (this BBC report cites the estimate as over one million). That is quite a substantial percentage of the population. The popular press are abuzz with this issue everyday with the latest news being about illegal passport schemes run by immigrants from the Indian subcontintent. Most illegal immigrants come from Indonesia, the Phillipines, India and Bangladesh.

Interestingly, all of my relatives (admittedly from a biased lower to upper middle class sample) who mentioned this issue were rather blase about it. The vast majority of opinion I heard about this was to the effect that without illegals the Malaysian economy would be a lot worse off or would grind to a halt because most locally born citizens were now unwilling to do many menial but necessary jobs in the economy (eg construction). Insofar as there were unfavourable opinions (and this is shared by the popular press) this was more along the lines that certain illegals contributed disproportionately to crime (the Indonesians in particular tend to be mentioned in a bad light) rather than fears that they were ‘taking away jobs’.

The situation has certain led to some interesting divisions of labour in the economy. For instance, apparently Bangladeshis for instance (who could be legal as well illegal) dominate the occupation of parking ticket inspectors in certain parts of Penang.

The most interesting and initially mind boggling sight for me was once when I sat down to order a bak kut teh (pork ribs in herbal soup) at a ‘coffee shop’ in KL and noticed that the cook was obviously of Malay ethnicity. Later I noticed other individuals of Malay extraction serving pork dishes and alcohol in other Chinese eating establishments in KL and Penang (one woman even spoke Cantonese more fluently than I ever could). This led me to wonder whether there was some special dispensation in the Koran allowing Muslims to serve pork and alcohol if it was important for their livelihood as long as they didn’t consume it themselves. However, a family friend gave me an even simpler answer to my connnundrum – these were not locally born Malays at all but Indonesian Christians who had moved to Malaysia to find work.

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Written by Admin

January 21, 2006 at 9:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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