The federal government should do the practical thing by allowing refugees already in the country to earn a living here, rather than invite a new influx of workers from abroad, said parliamentarian M Kulasegaran.
The Ipoh Barat MP - who is also a member of the Malaysian Parliament's Sir Lanka caucus - said figures compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hold that the country has 150,000 refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants registered with the UN agency.
“Why bring in 1.5 million workers from Bangladesh when there are, and have been for a long time, one-tenth of that number here under the general category of refugees?” asked the DAP national vice-chair.
The government ought to be pragmatic and allow this suffering lot of refugees already here to earn a living, rather than consign them to the pathetic fate they endure every day of their wretched lives,” asserted Kulasegaran.
The federal legislator was speaking after a meeting of the parliamentary caucus, headed by PKR MP Johari Abdul in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Of the 150,000 refugees in Malaysia, some 5,000 are Tamils from Sri Lanka who had fled the civil war (1983-2009) and oppression on the Jaffna Peninsula.
Kulasegaran said the government's plan to bring in 1.5 million workers from Bangladesh and resettle 5,000 Syrian refugees in the country raises the issue of selective treatment of wretched masses from abroad.
“We have refugees here - among whom are Bangladeshis, Rohingyas, Tamils, Myanmarese, Pakistanis and unspecified others - who yearn to work and earn a living. Why not put them to work, rather than see them languish in desperation?” he queried.
“If the economy continues to need low-paying labour, we should do the pragmatic thing and allow the refugees already here to work,” he said.
Kulasegaran said that sending the Rohingyas and Tamils back to their countries of origin would very likely leave them open to the human rights abuses from which they have fled.
“Many of them have been here for years and the compassionate thing to do is to allow them to work,” he pointed out.
He emphasised that Malaysia should adhere to the UN Convention on Refugees even if it is not yet a signatory - because that is the decent thing to do.