Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Delay In The Proceedings

At the last minute, and quite unexpectedly, the Malaysian authorities decided to suspend the controversial threat to expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers. This is welcome news even though there is a lot of uncertainty about what happens next.

The circumstances around the volte-face were a bit bizarre, to say the least. And this is unusual for a government that likes to speak with a single, authoritatve voice. The first indication that the expulsion might not go ahead was when unnamed immigration officials in Johor and Malacca claimed to have receieved verbal or SMS instructions not to proceed via their mobile phones. Only later did some kind of official policy statement emerge. The Malaysian Home Affairs Minister,
Azmi Khalid, adopted a conciliatory tone when he told the BBC that officials were only checking documents and advising "illegal" workers to leave:
We are calling it Operation Advice. This is because we've found the response from the illegal workers to be quite good. A lot of them have gone back to their country on their own accord. If the medicine has been effective, why use a stronger one?
But some of Azmi's subordinates don't seem to have been listening too well. According to Mahadi Arshad, director general of Volunteer Corps (Rela), which is involved in the crackdown, the delay was designed simply to enable authorities to identify possible hiding areas before pouncing. The members of the corps, who are ordinary citizens, are supposed to be rewarded 100 ringgit (about £14) for each undocumented migrant arrested.

Part of the reason for the suspension has been the pleas of neighbours for more time to consider the implications of repatriation of so many people. The Indonesian ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, for example, asked specifically for an extension and the Indonesian parliament is asking the President to intervene directly. The Philippine government made a similar request.

The big question, of course, is what happens next. The suspension is unlikely to spark much of a considered debate about how Malaysia might reconsider the whole question of its migration policy though it will give Indonesia and the Philippines some breathing space. For the migrant workers themselves the anxiety over their futures remains. As Irene Fernandez, one of Malaysia's fiercest critics of the ill-treatment of migrant workers says:
"There's something like a dark cloud hanging over migrant workers in Malaysia. There's been a total kind of mismanagement of this whole process".


Blogger spring said...

i came across your blog because i was looking for a translation of berger's mercurial portrait of sontag. then i began to read. i want to read and read. so many crossing overs, threads i have all ready to sew... randy david, eduardo galeano, salgado. the names. one of my students said babies brains are much more sophisticated than a computer's memory or power, but still when i think of berger's description of sontag's consciousness as travelling almost at the speed of light, i want to cry into my computer, because this seems to be the future of words and consciousnesses. my one student today was speaking of travelling fast on his motorcycle. i was encouraging him to make the connection between salam pax, our virtual experiences of war (and images of torture, tsunamis, human trauma) and his own life, but he didn't want to write about going fast. already typing is writing fast. already typing to you, a stranger, who reads like i do, looks out at the world from an outpost, separately. deliverer of messages we need, writes berger. yes. what is it that we can see? can't see? how is it pain leaks through the lens, the words of light, the speed of the virtual? i think of these splittings, the splicings, these injustices and thank you for your words.

8:28 am  

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