Migrants are people too. The fact that this obvious truth must be said in the first place speaks volumes about the reality of the situation in which migrants in Malaysia find themselves now – a situation that is unfortunately reflected around the world.
Much of the anti-migrant discourse in Malaysia centres around the idea that migrants have come here to take away the jobs, the safety and even the citizenship – essentially, the basic human rights – of Malaysians. This is an inaccurate assumption because human rights are not quantifiable. Giving migrants the same opportunities and the same basic social safety net as locals is not in any way "taking away" rights from locals.
This poor argument also reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of why migration happens in the first place, why people leave their families behind and risk their lives to come here. For some populations such as the Rohingya, this happens because of the sheer scale of government-enabled and endorsed persecution. For others, it is simply a lack of opportunity and thus a matter of survival.
According to the International Labor Organization,"the increased availability of skills provided by migrant workers helps to boost GDP", which can then translate into infrastructural development at all levels that benefits both migrant and local populations. However, this situation changes in times of financial difficulties and economic recession such as we are facing now, to the effect that migrants are disproportionately affected. Migrants tend to work in sectors like manufacturing and construction, which are hit the hardest in times of recession; this then leads to reductions in their already barely sufficient pay as well as a general worsening in working conditions, as shown by precedents during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
In crises like these, it is easy for xenophobia and racism to rise to the surface of everyday discourse. Especially at a time when worries about the coverage of our social safety net (healthcare, etc) are rising, migrants have become the scapegoats of society; this attitude has serious potential to harm them when it infiltrates the policies and actions of government bodies. At a time when the government should be enacting and reinforcing anti-discriminatory provisions and redirecting monetary and planning resources from less immediate projects to the healthcare system so that all are provided for, it has instead embarked on counterintuitive migrant raids that violate migrants' rights and enable their stigmatisation as "dirty" and subhuman.
I may be young (15 years old), but as I see my communities and elders behave in ways completely contrary to the ideals upon which Malaysia was founded – harmony and liberty – I grow more and more disillusioned. Migrants are not parasites in our society; neither can they be regarded as mere assets, for this implies that they can be discarded when no longer useful or no longer willing to do our dirty work. Migrants are human beings, with all the experiences and emotions that this connotes, and they are entitled to be treated as such.
LIM ZHENYI ALIANA
Subang Jaya, Selangor
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