KUALA LUMPUR: Stroll along Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin and Lebuh Pudu in the heart of the city and be transported to another land.
On a regular Sunday afternoon, the streets are packed with migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and Myanmar.
For most of them, they are in Malaysia to eke out a living. They fill up segments of the workforce shunned by Malaysians such as in construction, plantation and service industries.
They are here on weekends to meet their fellow countrymen and to stock up on essentials from their home countries that are found in this area.
Business here is booming for migrants running businesses such as restaurants, sundry shops, travel agencies, money remittance services and shops that sell cellphones or clothes. There is even a pub.
Others sell betel nut leaves for RM1, which are popular in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Signboards here are in various languages.
“Before they were the buyers. But now they are buyers and sellers, ” said a Malaysian cellphone trader who wanted to be known as Wong.
Wong, who has been operating in Jalan Silang, as it was once known before its name was changed to Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin, claimed that his own business had dropped dramatically.
“They prefer to buy from their own people as there is no language barrier, ” said Wong, who operates in a small corner of a luggage bag shop that’s Bangladeshi-run.
All the businesses here seemed legitimate, as they have licences stipulated by the local authority.
A trader from Yangon, who wanted to be known as Tin, has been here for about 20 years.
His sundry shop sells items from Myanmar such as dried goods and food like anchovies and nuts.
He said he could eke out a living here and only went back home to Myanmar occasionally for holidays.
Tenaganita programme director Aegile Fernandez said the presence of foreign workers was unavoidable.
Estimating that there are six million migrants here, she said: “That is a large number. We have them in our midst whether we like it or not. They have no support system, so they set up their own restaurants and grocery shops.
“Malaysians have to realise they are here to develop our country. We are dependent on them for getting rid of the garbage and doing the laundry, ” she said.
North South Initiative (NSI) director Adrian Pereira said that Malaysia had chosen a free market economic model, and this meant that the people would have to compete in a fair manner.
“If there is somebody with better skills in business and trade, and can do it more efficiently, you can’t prevent that, ” he said, adding that Malaysians themselves could learn from the foreigners on how they do business, and partner them to tap into their substantial network.