Sunday, February 13, 2005

Where Monsoons Meet No. 7

Being a miscellany of recent stories from Southeast Asia.

  • Malaysia. The story of Malaysia's threat to expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers has taken a new twist. There is a report here about police arresting a number of government officials suspected of selling residency permits to criminals involved in people trafficking. This comes on top of a major worry that unscrupulous employers will further exploit foreign workers by withholding pay during the temporary suspension of the mass deportation order that was due to come into effect at the beginning of the month. The treatment of migrant workers is simply appalling and inhumane. The government threatens them with jail and whipping for overstaying; employers regularly abuse the terms and conditions of work; and the police and immigration officers routinely extort money from them. There should be plenty for the Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, and the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to talk about tomorrow.
  • Philippines. The fighting that erupted on Monday in the southern island of Jolo continues and is the heaviest in conflict-ridden Mindanao for years. The battle pitches the Philippine military against separatists from the Abu Sayyaf and a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who follow the jailed leader Nur Misuari. Already, the BBC is reporting more than 90 deaths from both sides while the Philippine press is estimating that there are more than 16,000 refugees. Local politicians say that there have been many civilian casualities. The rhetoric of both sides is couched in fairly apocalyptic tones. The military is claiming that the separatists "are taking a last stand in the mountains". For their part, a Misuari ally counters that the separatists "do not like to surrender, they will fight to the death". Unfortunately, the latter scenario is the more likely. But when the smoke of the battlefield has cleared and the body bags have been filled the political destiny of the Moro people in Mindanao will be as unresolved as ever. And the immediate fear? An excuse for martial law.
  • Indonesia-Aceh. The Jakarta Post is carrying testimonies of survivors of December's earthquake-tsunami catastrophe. They point to the long-term psychological trauma that many people are suffering as a result of deeply-felt loss. Here is the voice of Ratnawati, who lost her husband and two children in the tsunami and no longer has hopes or dreams of the future: "I do not know what to do any more. I want to join my husband and children. I do not know what I should live the rest of my life for because I have nobody". The pain is stark. We can only hope that Ratnawati, and hundreds of thousands like her, rediscover the reason to live. And I can only hope that we - you and I - can remember the value of solidarity.


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