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Published: Friday December 13, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday December 13, 2013 MYT 1:24:07 PM

Singapore riot triggers alarm bells in Malaysia

Under watch: Officers have been instructed to monitor areas such as the KLCC where foreign workers tend to congregate.

Under watch: Officers have been instructed to monitor areas such as the KLCC where foreign workers tend to congregate.

PETALING JAYA: The riot in Singapore’s Little India has triggered alarm bells over the possibility of a similar incident happening in Malaysia because of the high number of foreign workers here.

There are concerns that foreign worker enclaves in our cities and major towns could be places of such an outbreak of violence.

It is not unusual for foreign workers to bring their rivalries and enmities to the countries where they are employed in.

In late May, several Myanmars were killed in a fight between two groups of workers from the country.

The outbreak of violence was linked to the civil unrest in their home country.

Three Myanmars were killed and several others injured in outbreaks of violence involving them in various parts of Kuala Lumpur between May 30 and June 4. 

Malaysian authorities arrested more than 1,000 Myanmars during raids in Kuala Lumpur and parts of Selangor to put an end to the fighting.

Responding to concerns raised in the wake of the Singapore riot, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the police and the Immigration Department have been put on alert at foreign worker enclaves throughout the country.

He said officers had also been instructed to monitor areas where foreign workers congregate, especially places that have been identified as potential hot spots for trouble.

“We are always observing the activities of foreign workers and are ready to overcome any potential threat,” he said.

Among the places under watch include those in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, such as the KLCC and Sogo shopping malls.

“We are also looking at workers’ quarters nationwide, so the public need not worry,” Dr Ahmad Zahid added.

The minister also revealed that foreign workers with valid working permits would be issued I-Cards with biometric and bar code identification soon to help the authorities keep tabs on them and trace those who commit crimes.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told the Dewan Rakyat on Oct 23 that the number of foreign workers in Malaysia with valid work permits as of June 30 this year totalled 2,116,998.

In addition, there were an estimated 1.3 million illegal immigrants in Malaysia as of August 2012.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) urged employers and authorities to work together to draw up measures to prevent any incidents of rioting by foreign workers in the country.

“We are concerned because any riot, like the one that took place in Singapore, can adversely affect the operations of member companies,” said MEF executive director Sham­suddin Bardan.

He said a special programme to instill greater awareness of local culture, customs and norms should be introduced to the millions of foreign workers here.

He said the programme could be jointly organised by employers, the police and Immigration department and would help reduce the possibility of friction between foreign workers and local communities.

Shamsuddin said the foreign workers must be reminded of the relevant criminal laws of Malay­sia.

He foreign workers should also be prevented from forming enclaves.

“Such areas could become hot spots for trouble if there are tensions between the foreigners and locals,” he said.

Tenaganita executive director Dr Irene Fernandez, however, disagreed, saying the enclaves were places for camaraderie and support for foreign workers.

She said it was wrong to blame foreign workers for living together in groups because they had no choice in many cases.

“We condemn them for living near us because we say they make our neighbourhoods dirty and send our property prices down.

“The blame is not on them but on their employers who place a large number of these workers in harsh and dirty living conditions because they want the cheapest way to house them,” Fernandez said.

She said employers and the authorities must be more accountable when dealing with exploitation of the foreign workers to prevent tensions from rising.

Several of such workers’ housing areas are located in Petaling Street and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur where some of the foreigners also operate hawker stalls and stalls selling other items.

There is also a large concentration of Myanmars and refugees from the country at the wholesale market in Selayang.

In Penang, Jalan Gurdwara and Jalan Magazine have become “Little Bangladesh” while the second floor of the Komtar shopping centre is dubbed “Little Myanmar”.

Other Stories:

Not all of us are bad say foreign workers

Riot Foreign workers are happy

Even something minor can trigger violence


Tags / Keywords: Courts & Crime, home minister, foreign worker hotspots

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