GEORGE TOWN: A pang of fear always hits single mother Julia Choong whenever she has to send her 16-year-old daughter on an errand.
She is afraid that foreign workers in the neighbourhood will harass her daughter again.
“They like to go near her and ask her where she is from.
“Only when my daughter speaks will they realise she is Malaysian and leave her alone,” said Choong, who lives in a four-block apartment complex in Mount Erskine.
She is one of thousands of Penangites who have to put up with the inconveniences of having blue-collared foreign workers living in their midst.
She said her apartment block is a 15-minute walk from shopping complexes and many foreigners who work there rent the apartment units.
“Our rental value here can go up to RM1,200 but because many of them live together, they can still afford it,” she said, adding that some businesses rented the units as workers’ quarters too.
Choong said her friend, who lives a few floors above her, installed a security camera that points at her unit’s grill door and one day, it recorded someone who looked like a foreigner approaching her door.
“She showed me the recording. The man stared for about 30 seconds as if to see what she had before walking away.
“She showed the video to the police, but they said the man only looked and did not commit any crime,” Choong said.
The problem seems to be worse in Macallum Street Ghaut.
Resident Johnny Lee said locals there dread the mornings, when three to four factory buses enter their area at once and stop by the roadside to pick up the workers.
“They block the road and we cannot do anything but wait. You can’t honk at the buses because the drivers will scream at you.
“Many of them love to throw rubbish down the air wells too. They just can’t be bothered to take their rubbish down,” he said.
Lee added that the rentals in his neighbourhood had been inflated to the point that locals could not afford them anymore.
“Our two-room flats used to be RM350 to RM450 a month. But landlords now want RM700 to RM900.
“When you have 12 foreigners sharing a two-room flat, they can easily afford the higher rent,” he lamented.
State Housing Committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo is more than familiar with these problems.
“I’ve had people come to my office crying because of the social problems they face when blue-collared foreign workers live among them,” Jagdeep said.
He said a study by Universiti Sains Malaysia found that 30,000 foreigners were living in housing estates in Juru.
Jagdeep said foreign workers’ dormitory complexes would resolve many of the issues, adding: “There are many views on the pros and cons of such dorms, but the state government is entirely for this.”
He said foreign workers were the backbone of the economy because they were willing to do menial jobs that did not attract locals.
“We must then look into their housing needs too. When residential areas are exclusively dedicated to foreign workers, they are free to express their own socio-cultural uniqueness,” he said.
In Singapore, Jagdeep said, apartment blocks meant only for foreigners were so well set up that it looked like “condo living”.
“It’s version 4.0 of their dormitory complexes from years ago.
“Employers want to make sure their workers live happily so that they will stay on. That created the demand for classy residences,” he added.
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