PETALING JAYA: For many years, the Malaysia Hall Canteen in London has been treated like a restaurant, which was why some people were taken aback when security was recently tightened there.
The Education Ministry-owned Education Malaysia building at 34, Queensborough Terrace has begun enforcing a security policy restricting entry to Malaysians and authorised personnel only.
Starting Oct 22, visitors to the Malaysia Hall are now required to show their MyKad or passport before being allowed into the building to use its facilities.
The Malaysia Hall Canteen and prayer room are popular spots for homesick Malaysians in the United Kingdom yearning for a taste of home.
Previously, visitors could enter the canteen via stairs leading to the basement entrance.
Non-Malaysians were allowed to enter as guests if accompanied by a Malaysian.
However, the basement entrance is now chained up with a sign instructing visitors to enter using the Malaysia Hall's main entrance where they have to register.
Malaysians are not allowed to bring non-Malaysians into the canteen as guests either.
According to the Pelajar & Komuniti UK-Ireland (UK-Ireland Students and Community) Facebook page, these restrictions are not new but simply the strict enforcement of an existing rule.
“These steps had been taken for security reasons, whereby entrance to the canteen and surau will also be only through the main door,” it said.
It said the management makes exceptions for the non-Malaysian spouses or children of Malaysian citizens, guests and locally recruited staff at the High Commission of Malaysia, and contractors.
It added that the doors are open to non-Malaysian regulars for Friday prayers.
An official, when contacted, said priority had to be given to Malaysian students.
“The Hall, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is so small and usually overcrowded,” he said.
It is believed that there are some 80,000 Malaysians living in the United Kingdom, 16,000 of them students.
On social media, some Malaysians in the United Kingdom criticised the fact they were not allowed to bring their non-Malaysian friends to try the food at the canteen.
Over the years, the Malaysia Hall Canteen has built a reputation as one of the best and cheapest places to have authentic Malaysian food in London.
It is listed as a restaurant on Facebook, and is featured on many food and travel blogs.
Many of these recommendations do not mention that the canteen is located inside a diplomatic building.
On Tripadvisor, “Malaysia Hall - The Canteen” is listed as a four-star restaurant with customers from as far as Austria, Brazil, and Dubai, posting reviews.
These reviews state that there is a sign prohibiting non-Malaysians from entering the canteen unless accompanied by a Malaysian but it is not enforced.
“They let me in - without a Malasian (sic) with me - I am sure they will allow a Malasian (with a UK passport) to go in -- they are VERY friendly,” reviewer “psychologistuk” from the United Kingdom wrote in June.
“The sign outside the door says so, but in reality nobody checks passports,” another commentator wrote in 2017.
Due to the perception that the canteen was a restaurant, many non-Malaysians who arrived at Malaysia Hall were surprised by the new security policy sign and cried foul at not being welcome.
Further posing a security risk is a blog advising that non-Malaysians who want to enter the canteen can try to persuade a Malaysian at the entrance to bring them in.
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