Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Malaysia verbal diarrhoea hits Ethnic Indian workers

Kolkata Telegraph, Issue Date: Wednesday , January 9 , 2008
Malaysia ban babel hits Indians
- Guest minister claims status quo

Indian vendors talk to a customer at a shop in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Tuesday. (below) Mutu Mari, a barber from India, and his customer reflected in a saloon mirror. (Reuters)

Kuala Lumpur/New Delhi, Jan. 8: On a day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the security and welfare of Indians abroad was a top priority, confusion erupted over the future of Indian workers in Malaysia.

A home ministry official in Malaysia said the country had frozen the recruitment of Indian workers.

“The cabinet decided about two weeks ago to freeze the intake of workers from India and Bangladesh,” the official said. “Those already in the country will not have their work permits renewed.”

The ban did not specify whether professionals were also included, but it is believed to cover all categories of workers, he said. The official linked the order to an unrest by ethnic Indians who are demanding racial equality.

Other ministry officials confirmed the decision, which became public the day defence minister A.K. Antony ended a three-day visit to Malaysia, but gave no reason. Antony was not informed of the decision during his meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other top leaders.

In the evening, a Malaysian minister denied the ban. “I just spoke to the Prime Minister.… There is no truth in the statement (about the ban).... It’s not true, means everything is status quo,” works minister S. Samy Vellu, the only ethnic Indian member of the cabinet, said on the sidelines of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Delhi where Manmohan Singh stressed on the safety and welfare of Indians abroad.

“Indian workers are already there and when they are needed, they are welcome.”

Minister for overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi said: “We believe him.”

S. Samy Vellu, the only ethnic Indian member in the Malaysian cabinet, at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2008 in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)

About an hour before his denial, Vellu had said the country had enough foreign workers. “The government decided it is enough and we don’t want to recruit any more because we have enough workers,” he said. “Is it wrong?”

About 20,000 ethnic Indians demonstrated on the streets on November 25 in a rare and open challenge to the government, saying they were being discriminated against.

“The bhumiputras (Malays) can buy houses cheaper. They can send their children to the best schools and colleges without paying a packet. They get the best jobs, both private and government,” complained Vasu, an IT professional.

“We are still outsiders and it hurts because I consider myself a Malaysian and not an Indian,” said a Tamil-origin youth whose family migrated three generations ago. He has never visited India.

The ban on Indian workers was not officially announced and was confirmed by the home ministry official only when reporters called for a clarification on a statement by a religious group that Indian temple workers were being denied permission to work in Malaysia.

Government forms listing countries from where workers can be recruited had quietly dropped India, sources said.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said the immigration department suddenly stopped issuing work permits to foreign priests, temple musicians and sculptors. It extended visas by only six months for priests, three months for temple musicians and one week for sculptors, and said there would be no further renewals.

“This sudden decision without any dialogue or consultation with us is unprecedented,” said A. Vaithilingam, the president of the council.

There was confusion among ethnic Indians about the ban, which allegedly took effect on December 31. “We heard about the order only today from media reports. We have all been trying to check from various sources about the authenticity of the information,” Vasu said.

Officials in the Indian ministry of external affairs said “there has been no official intimation from the Malaysian government to us”.

Airport workers

All major airports in Malaysia will be barred from employing foreign workers in a decision the government said would ensure tourists were not taken aback when greeted by a sea of non-Malaysian faces on arrival.


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