Proposal to swap migrant workers with refugees to do 3D work sounds a decent idea

MALAYSIA’S economy is hugely dependent on migrant workers with the Human Resources (HR) Ministry putting the number around 2.7 million.

With such large numbers come a slew of problems as recent articles highlight. These range from illicit strip clubs to questionable hygiene practices which many Malaysians are reacting very negatively as frustration mounts over what is deemed as invasion of foreigners.

Hence, reports that Putrajaya is being proactive to reduce this number is welcome news.

As reported in the Malay Mail, the HR Ministry said it is examining an appropriate mechanism to allow refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to seek employment.

The federal government however clarified that these jobs will be limited to those in the category dubbed “3D” (dirty, dangerous and difficult).

“For this purpose, the government is also creating a refugee data collection system at the government level which means that in addition to being registered under UNHCR, this group also needs to be registered with the government,” Sabah, Sarawak Affairs and Special Functions Minister Datuk Armizan Mohd Ali said in a Parliamentary written reply on Oct 30.

“The registration mechanism with the government will be finalised by the Home Ministry.”

It is estimated that there are nearly 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia from countries such as Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan. As Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 protocol, their demographic is not recognised while their status remained categorised as “illegal immigrants”.

In May, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the government is considering entering into an agreement with the UNHCR regarding the commission’s role and responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

Photo credit: Malaysiakini

A survey by international market research firm IPSOS released in June said most Malaysians favoured closing their country’s borders to refugees with around 72% of respondents saying Malaysia should turn away refugees entirely while 73% believed they came here merely for economic reasons and welfare services.

Nevertheless, there are several things to consider. Since these refugees are already here, it makes valid sense to engage them productively rather than increase the input of migrant workers.

Another is that among genuine refugee cases, there may be highly qualified individuals who may be better employed in areas outside the 3D categories. If there are qualified healthcare professionals, for instance, they should be allowed to fill up the voids in the relevant sectors.

Alongside news that Putrajaya has announced plans to provide more job opportunities to local ex-convicts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the country, these represent small steps in the right direction.

Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar revealed the plans in parliament on Oct 31 when he was responding to a question regarding the government’s role in becoming a middle party between employers and Malaysian prisons for the purpose of replacing foreign workers with ex-convicts.

In the meantime, Malaysia will continue to grapple with issues related to heavy dependency on migrant workers to bolster its economy. – Nov 2, 2023

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