Living with xenophobia and Covid-19

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Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

Foreigners must be treated humanely and offered proper medical attention in order to protect fellow Malaysians, Mustafa K Anuar writes.

At a time of crisis, particularly the current pandemic, suspicion, ridicule and hatred towards refugees, asylum seekers and other foreigners surge among many Malaysians.

For some, it is a deep-seated sentiment that is driven by a fear of the unknown; others are influenced by certain government policies that are discriminatory towards these marginalised people.

Some others suspect that the Covid-19 treatment would be overwhelmed by foreigners, and a few others because of their bad personal experiences with wayward individuals who eventually become stereotypes of these foreign communities.

These groups on the margins become convenient punching bags, especially during this crisis, which has brought about racist and toxic expressions in our society.

The depth of hatred and distrust of outsiders is exemplified by a cartoon that has been making its rounds recently on social media.

There are four sequences to the cartoon: the first shows a man, representing Malaysia, lying on his bed, while a dog, representing the Rohingya, lies on the floor by the bedside.

In the swift transition to the last sequence, the man is found to have been kicked out of the bed on to the floor by the dog, which is now occupying the entire bed.

When people outside of the host communities are equated with a dog, it should not be a surprise to us that they will be looked upon and treated like one. Not that we should endorse an attitude that is considered by some as normal.

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Indeed, the humanitarian values of certain Malaysians have gone out the window.

Incidentally, the turning away of Rohingya boats off our coast by our authorities is seen by these Malaysians as the right thing to do, without considering the importance of our government and its Asean counterparts deciding collectively on emergency measures to avoid another humanitarian catastrophe.

While the xenophobic may want to regard these foreigners as outsiders, Covid-19 virus, however, would insist they are very much part of the Malaysian landscape.

In the first place, many of them have contributed – and continue to contribute – to the informal and formal sectors of our economy over the years. These include the “3D jobs”, ie dangerous, dirty and difficult jobs that are lowly paid and frowned upon by most Malaysians.

But more importantly, at this juncture as implied above, these marginalised peoples are indeed “connected” to Malaysians largely through the spread of the raging virus, the xenophobia and racism notwithstanding.

That is why, for example, it alarmed the Malaysian government and its people when several hundred Rohingya refugees were said to have attended a tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling mosque recently to the extent that they become a sub-cluster.

Given the fact that Covid-19 defies ethnic, religious and class borders, certain mechanisms should be put in place so these foreigners are encouraged to come forward voluntarily for virus screening and appropriate treatment without having to fear being arrested by the authorities.

To be sure, past practices do not inspire confidence among these foreigners, especially those who are undocumented, that no arrest or other repercussions would haunt them.

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Instead, healthcare should be made easily accessible to these foreigners even under normal circumstances simply because they are fellow human beings with similar health needs.

The nature of their work, which is often dangerous and unhealthy, and their cramped living quarters make them even more susceptible to disease and other physical problems.

The provision of food aid should also be extended to them, as assured by Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa pertaining to the foreigners living in the Selayang area who recently came under an enhanced movement control order.

The prospect of starvation hangs over odd-job working and daily wage-earning foreigners, whose savings, if any, would dry up eventually with the enforcement of the order.

It is hoped that the current government, whose leaders had even expressed support for the oppressed Rohingya people in a street demonstration not too long ago, would craft humane policies amenable to improving the welfare of not only the Rohingya community but also other refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers.

Having said that, the giving of aid to the underprivileged and the marginalised by the kind-hearted among Malaysians, such as those behind the #KitaJagaKita project, should serve as a guiding light for those Malaysians who seem to have lost their moral compass.

Even for selfish reason of self-preservation, the xenophobic should be humbled by the fact that foreigners must be treated humanely and offered proper medical attention to protect fellow Malaysians.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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