The unity government must focus on combating xenomisia

A WAVE of xenomisia (hatred or prejudice against foreigners) focusing on Rohingya refugees has again swept through the Malaysian social media circles.

There has been a clear undercurrent within Malaysian society against this particular group over the last few years that often results in particularly heinous statements.

Without giving much attention to them, it is clear that sentiments bordering on promoting genocide – going so far as to take the side of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar armed forces) – has increasingly been treated as normal speech. This should be addressed immediately by the unity government.

In the past, we have seen how government departments under the Perikatan Nasional (PN)-Barisan Nasional (BN) regime behaved in problematic ways with a poster stating that Rohingya migrants were not welcome in Malaysia appearing on the social media account of the Immigration Department.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) themselves have expressed similar tendencies with the most recent issue being not extending free bus service in Petaling Jaya to foreign workers, arguably one of the groups that need it the most.

Hypocritically, the realities of Palestine are used to expand the clout of many mainstream politicians, utilising the oppression of the apartheid state of Israel onto the Palestinian people simply to gain popularity.

Arveent Kathirtchelvan

When similar genocidal conditions appear in Myanmar, though, the very same people cast them aside for the same clout. Clearly, the pain and suffering of others are used in a selfish manner with the core issue of human rights discarded.

Inhumane treatment

It is horrific to consider the treatment of migrants and refugees in this country, enabled by governments that have been at best neglectful and at worst actively participating in xenomisia.

Even contributing to the economy doesn’t spare foreign workers from the stigma of being lesser than locals.  We have many times seen how security guards, for example, are mocked and made fun of in popular local comedy shows to raucous applause.

More than that, if we were to look at the dismal conditions of their living quarters and consider how they are often asked to do consecutive 12-hour shifts, we will begin to understand how dehumanising foreign workers are treated here.

Deeply concerning is how our Human Resource Ministers have been promoting the reliance on foreign labour for work that apparently are refused by local workers. These include the so-called 3D (dangerous, dirty and demeaning) jobs.

However, this is simply nonsensical when the conditions of labour for these jobs, wages and benefits are not improved, rather workers who are willing to work in unfavourable conditions are found instead. This blatant exploitation continues even today with the Human Resource Minister, V. Sivakumar, continuing the same attitude of his forebears.

We must realise at this time as well the vitriol spewed against so-called “illegal immigrants” – properly called undocumented migrants – largely come from the import of foreign labour.

Workers have their passports confiscated and are never given the proper paperwork identifying them as legal workers by their employer. This is used by unscrupulous officials in order to extort these workers of their earnings.

When these workers protest against their aforementioned conditions of work, suddenly they are branded illegal immigrants and are hunted down as if they’re animals.

Reforming government agencies

The unity government must understand the nuances of the issues I have highlighted above as these are not new problems. They have existed for decades and are well-known to those currently in power.

There must be concrete, material changes to the management of foreign workers with their living quarters upgraded to meet an acceptable minimum level of comfort, immediate identification of their status as workers and proper audits to be done to ensure the conditions of work are manageable.

Pic credit: Malaysiakini


Refugees must also be guaranteed a minimum level of comfort especially with their most basic needs including housing, food and necessary services. This must include a right to work as well to ensure they can live in a dignified manner without resorting to depending on certain NGOs (non-governmental organisation) or external people.

Additionally, the prevalence of xenomisia among Malaysians must be addressed effectively through revamping the education syllabi to include concepts of human rights, dignity and mutual respect.

Common narratives that make light, denigrate or otherwise dehumanise migrants and refugees must be highlighted to be unacceptable everywhere and for whatever reason.

In this case, government agencies themselves must be reformed to be truly inclusive, with the necessary training being made available.

On top of this, an Anti-Discrimination Act must be introduced to recognise the need to combat discrimination of any kind and provide a clear framework by which to combat xenomisia, sexism, racism, gender-based and sexuality-based discrimination. – Feb 1, 2023


Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Pemuda Sosialis chief of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia

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