Migrant workers and refugees cry for help


One way the public can help is by paying the rent for migrant workers and refugees, most of whom stay in low-cost flats.

A GROUP of refugees in Kedah walked into an Alor Setar police station seeking help earlier this month.

Pertubuhan Kebajikan Journey To Insyirah spokesman Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi related the incident to highlight how the movement control order (MCO) is affecting this vulnerable group.

“In the past, refugees always avoided the police for fear of being caught as they may be undocumented but now they are desperate. They were crying and told the police they had not eaten for days, ” she said.

While many middle and high-income earners rushed to the nearest supermarket and stocked up after the MCO was announced, others were not so fortunate as they live hand to mouth and have no savings.

Daily wage foreign workers, both documented and undocumented, are among the hardest hit due to the temporary halt in most job sectors.

Many of these foreign workers have run out of money and are worried where their next meal will come from.

StarMetro highlights the plight of a few of those affected. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Living hand to mouthPoon, 25, an undocumented odd job worker from Myanmar, is surviving on the kindness of his neighbours.

He lives in a two-room low-cost flat with his wife and three children aged five and below.

“We eat plain rice or instant noodles most of the time. I used to work with a local and do odd jobs. Now all of us have no job or money, ” he said.

The flat he lives in has no water as supply was cut due to unpaid bills. The family fills up mineral water bottles from a neighbour’s house.

Poon’s predicament is not unique as there are numerous such cases around the country.

The family is aware of the Covid-19 pandemic but they cannot afford face masks, do not take more showers due to the water situation and are unable to see a doctor even if they fall sick.

Shavaz, 30, from Pakistan, who used to work as a contractor, lives with five of his friends. He is an undocumented worker.

They usually eat chapati with vegetables for their main meals.

Shavaz and his peers are worried that without any money coming in, they may soon starve.

“We have some food left in our fridge but it won’t last for more than three days.

“As housemates, we share and cook together. But no one has money at the moment. I might return to my country if the situation worsens here, ” he said.

Ani, 42, from Indonesia, earned wages as a part-time maid and was paid daily.

The restriction order has affected her job opportunities and she is also down with fever.

“I don’t have money to go to the clinic for treatment. I am just trying to stretch my savings, ” said the single mother of two.

Shafiq, 40, from Bangladesh lives at a construction site.

As a labourer, he is paid daily but he no longer earns an income since the start of the MCO on March 18.

Together with his peers, they cook their own meals and live in shared cabins. However, with no income they worry over how they will survive.

“We used to eat heavy meals in the morning, followed by lunch and dinner because we do hard labour.

“Now we try to reduce our meals and sometimes do not eat dinner. We may have to ask our employer to help us out but knowing our predicament, they should offer us food, ” said Shafiq, who shares his cabin with three others.

He added that all of them were required to undergo daily body temperature checks.

Shafiq said his housemates and he would usually keep some money for expenses, and send the balance to their families in their homeland.

The MCO had caught them off-guard and they could not stretch their savings, he added.

NGOs reach outTengku Emma is collecting food to supply at least 100 needy refugee families.

However, with the MCO, the situation is also bleak for locals who can no longer go out to work.

“The immigrants and refugees are going hungry and many locals too have to rely on their savings to survive, ” said Tengku Emma, who can be contacted at 012-413 1809.

Tenaganita community mobiliser Hasnah Hussin said the number of those needing help among the migrant, undocumented and refugee communities is increasing.

“Their biggest challenge is paying their rent, followed by insufficient food.

“The public can help by paying their rent and providing them with basic necessities, ” said Hasnah.

She added that most were living on their own and had no safety net to fall back on.

“Local corporations prefer to help Malaysians, ” said Hasnah.

She added that donations could also be in the form of hygiene products and face masks.

Items such as infant formula and milk powder are also a necessity for those with children.

“Let’s just be there for each other during this trying time, ” said Hasnah, who can be contacted at 03-7770 3691.

Meanwhile, Heidy Quah from Refuge to Refugees said many among the marginalised could turn to their embassies for help.

“I have received over 50 calls from refugees asking for food and we are trying our best, ” she said.

Quah can be reached at 012-307 3714.

Tony Cheong, 42, from Persatuan Penganut Dewa Yi Xuan Kuan Ti Puchong said many locals have been generous in helping out foreign communities in need but Malaysians too are facing tough times.

He worries that if aid does not reach this community, there will be an increase in crime.

“I know of 20 families with no food. They can live with little but they don’t even have that.

“My temple will do what it can but the number of those needing help is increasing day by day.”

Those interested to donate can call Cheong at 016-696 1438.

Yellow House KL, a social enterprise aimed at providing sustainable solutions is buying Afghan bread made by the refugee community to be distributed to the needy.

“One of them is an Afghan refugee who was doing carpentry work prior to the MCO. Now he is making bread from his house which we buy and distribute to the needy, ” said its founder Shyam Priah Marimuthu.

Besides donations, the public can also nominate people in need of food aid.

For details, visit yellowhousekl.com/ngo/

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