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Stop the hate

File photo: Hasnoor Hussain/Al Jazeera

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Aliran is shocked over a recent article by a local academic over what he terms as the rightful cleansing of Malaysia of undocumented foreign nationals.

His plaudits for the authorities’ series of raids to round up undocumented foreigners is seriously xenophobic.

We have seen attempts to dehumanise foreigners, especially those who are undocumented, time and again in a flurry of recent articles and news reports. Worse, the inflammatory content in some of these articles could very well incite locals to act against those who they think have no place in this country.

Such xenophobia and bullying can have serious consequences on people’s lives.

In some articles, we see the pathetic use of a range of stereotypes, misinformation and unsubstantiated allegations against undocumented foreigners:

  • they have pinched the jobs of many locals who are left jobless and economically vulnerable by the pandemic
  • they are criminals who threaten the safety of Malaysians
  • they are not bothered about cleanliness
  • they contribute to the spread of life-threatening diseases including Covid-19

The undocumented are not in a position to refute such allegations levelled at them, as they don’t have the avenue to respond.

Agreed, some foreigners are capable of a wide range of criminal activity, just like some Malaysians are. But are they disproportionately more prone to crime?

One news report cited statistics which showed that crimes by foreign nationals dropped over the period from 2016 to 2018. A research study revealed an overemphasis on nationality during crime reporting, leading to the entrenching of the stereotypes of foreigners as criminals.

As for health issues and sanitation, when will we acknowledge the appalling living conditions of workers both documented and undocumented, allowed by the government (including local councils), employers and recruitment agencies, which has led to cramped living spaces and the inability to practise social distancing in such places? Will we acknowledge the difficulty of foreign nationals in accessing affordable healthcare in the country, given they have to pay much more than locals at hospitals?

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Blaming foreigners for Covid-19 transmission is ironic given that it is highly doubtful that it was the undocumented workers who went on holiday and brought Covid-19 back to Malaysia.

Moreover, the reporting of new cases of Covid-19 infections has been at times divided into locals and non-locals, further fuelling the “us versus them” xenophobia. Was it the fault of the undocumented migrants that so many cases of Covid-19 cropped up at congested immigration detention centres?

And what about the broken promise that no action would be taken against undocumented migrants who show up for Covid-19 testing?

What is dangerous is commentary that encourages suspicion and ‘action’ against foreigners, eg stopping them from gathering at public spaces to ‘reduce the threat’ to us.

Agreed, immigration laws in the country apply to all. However, the application of these laws must take into consideration the context of the infringement. While some undocumented migrants have gained entry into our country through illegal means, abetted by locals and non-locals who profit from such under-the-counter arrangements, others have found themselves cheated or ill-treated by recruitment agencies or local employers who have kept their passports. Or migrants may have found their working conditions exploitative, intolerable or not what they were promised.

Access to justice for the vast majority of these people caught in human trafficking or exploitative situations is extremely difficult.

So, in tackling the issue of undocumented people in the country, the authorities must be rational and balanced in their approach. There cannot be room for regressive, hate-fuelling propaganda to score points or flex muscles as part of a show of power.

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Dehumanising or demonising groups of people has serious consequences. We have seen the world over where hatred towards groups of people can lead to. It leads to hate crimes and even fatalities. We cannot have that here in Malaysia.

We must nip it in the bud and stop the hate.

Aliran executive committee

19 June 2020

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